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History of Western Civilization

Make a Search Plan

Use a Search Plan to approach your research strategically.

A search plan has three parts that work together to help you find your sources.

search plan hierarchy with tools, strategies, and you underneath it

Where will you look for information?

Search tools may be open web, like Google, or "deep web" or "hidden web", like Library databases.

Some standard search tools for any topic or subject include:

How will you look for information? What techniques or hacks will you use in the tools you choose?

Explore these helpful strategies.

Keywords down arrow

The words you choose matter; select search terms with care. Avoid putting your search in the form of a question.

"Exact phrase" down arrow

Put 2 or more words inside quotation marks to turn them into a single word; so "black cat" looks for results with these 2 words as a phrase. Without the quotation marks, the tool will look for the words black and cat anywhere in the results.

Suggestions down arrow

Search tools usually make suggestions for keywords and search terms as you type in the search box - Use them!

3 Magic Words down arrow

  • AND - combine keywords or search terms (eagles AND bears); results must have both words
  • OR - include alternatives for keywords or search terms (eagles OR bears); results will have one word or the other, maybe both
  • NOT - eliminates keywords or search terms (eagles NOT bears); results will exclude results that contain the keyword after NOT

Filters or Limiters down arrow

Overwhelmed by search results? Limit by picking filters such as date or source type (academic journal, ebook, etc.).

What will you do as you search and start finding results?

You need to be:

  • Flexible - Be willing to change directions based on what you find, or don't find. This could mean changing your strategies, your search terms, and possibly your working thesis or even your topic.

  • Persistent - Try, and then try again. Maybe switch up your strategies or change your search tool. Consider your keywords or search terms - remember, the words you choose matter and they can make or break a search.

  • Willing to Ask for HELP - Freshman and sophomores in college aren't expected to know how to do college-level research. You are beginners who are learning quickly. Know when to ask for help. The Library and your instructor are great resources. Use them!

Search Strategy Examples

Exact Phrase

Add Quotation Marks to search for an exact phrase or words in a specific or EXACT order. An exact phrase will return more accurate results because it snaps all of the words together, turning it into a phrase that must be found exactly in that order.

Example: separation anxiety vs. “separation anxiety”

3 Magic Words - AND, OR, NOT


Apply filters to limit your search results. Because they limit your results, filters might also be called limiters. The most common and helpful filters to limit your results are:

  • Date: Limit to the past 5 years, or a specific date range
  • Source Type: Limit to academic/scholarly sources or any other type, such as news or ebooks
  • Peer Review: Limit to scholarly sources that have been peer reviewed


Create a list of keywords associated with your topic.

What else could it be called (synonyms)? What describes it specifically (hyponyms)? What is it related to broadly (hypernyms)?

Topics can be narrowed or broadened depending on the use of search terms.

General: monkeys

Narrower: howler monkeys

Broader: primates