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Develop a Search Strategy

What is a search strategy? A search strategy is a systematic plan for finding the sources you need for a particular assignment. You will need to identify, obtain, read, and analyze a variety of materials in a relatively short period of time while working on an assignment. The amount of information related to a given topic can be overwhelming. It's easy to get sidetracked by interesting but off-target issues. Spending a little time planning the search at the beginning of a project can help to keep you on task and save time in the long run.

Where to begin. In some cases your instructor may tell you exactly what types of sources to use and how many. In other cases you may be told something more general regarding sources. Consider factors such as the following as you think about developing a strategy:

  • whether popular or academic sources are more appropriate - or both
  • whether sources must be very recent - if yes, how recent?
  • whether the topic has an historical angle and "primary" sources would be appropriate - such as articles from the 1929 New York Times about "Black Thursday," the stock market crash
  • whether you need background information or a general overview of the topic
  • whether you need statistical, company financial, economic, or other types of data
  • what kind of information is needed - academic journals? business magazines? trade journals? accounting standards? company financials? industry overviews?
  • when is it due?

A simple search strategy for an economic study of the airlines industry might be as follows:

  • develop a schedule for when to complete the different parts of the assignment
  • obtain an overview from an encyclopedia (such as The Airline Industry. Encyclopedia of Airline Business History and Biography); use UNISTAR, the Rod Library catalog, to find
  • obtain broad coverage from books or government publications (such as Handbook of Airline Economics); use UNSTAR, the Rod Library catalog, to find
  • obtain recent, academic journal articles on specific economic issues and the airline industry; use databases such as ABI/INFORM and EconLit to find
  • obtain reference sources that provide strategic analysis of the airlines industry; use database such as IBISWorld to find
  • examine web sites for relevant trade associations and government agencies (such as Air Transport Association and Federal Aviation Administration); find using reference lists of industry studies or Google searches.
  • use business and economics vocabulary to create appropriate keyword and subject searches
  • narrow search if necessary by using more specific search terms or requiring terms be in fields like Titles
  • broaden search if necessary by using more general search terms or looking for terms in entire full text of articles

Last updated: August 23, 2010

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