2.1 How to search effectively

Bringing efficiency in searching

Step 1: How to Generate Keywords

Here is the example to generate keywords in a systematic process.

  • Create a Research Topic
  • List Your (Key Concepts)/(Key Search words) based on the research topics
  • Now, try to list at least 1 (related keywords)/(related search words) for each of your key concepts. These might be synonyms, broader terms, more specific terms, etc.

Step 2: How to Use Your Keywords

Once we have generated keywords, the other task is to use these keywords. How to do that.

Very simple — by using Boolean operators. This will help to focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms. And connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Boolean operators form the basis of mathematical sets and database logic.

  • They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.
  • The three basic boolean operators are: AND, OR, and NOT.
How AND operator works
How OR operator works
Database Search Tips: Boolean operators (source: https://libguides.mit.edu/c.php?g=175963&p=1158594)

The combined search words would look like this:

(privacy OR secrecy OR consent) AND (policies OR contracts OR agreement) AND (Data protection OR safety OR online browsing )

Step 3: How to use search tricks

Words can have different endings or could be spelt differently. In this situation, how can we accommodate these different words while searching?

Root Words

  • Root words that have multiple endings. Example: sun = suns, sunshine, sunny, sunlight
  • Words that are spelt differently, but mean the same thing. Example: color, colour
  • Truncation/wildcard symbols vary by database.

Phrases (Phrase searching “………..”)

  • Different databases interpret searches differently. A common variation is how databases recognize phrases.
  • Some assume that words typed next to each other should be searched as phrases.
  • Others automatically put a Boolean AND between your search terms, requiring that all the words be present, but not necessarily adjacent to each other.
  • These searches can retrieve very different results.

Double quotation marks help you to search for common phrases and will make your results more relevant.

E.g. “physical activity” will find results with the words physical activity together as a phrase

Adapt your search and keep trying

Searching for information is a process and you won’t always get it right the first time. Improve your results by changing your search and trying again until you’re happy with what you have found.

References and Links:



This blog demonstrates a basic process for generating a literature review.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Pranjal Jain

Design Researcher; Initiator of HCI4SouthAsia; Ex-chair of Srishti SIGCHI Chapter; Startup Community Enabler