Structuring your searches and recording the results

Site: QMplus - The Online Learning Environment of Queen Mary University of London
Module: RDF: Information Literacy Skills for Researchers
Book: Structuring your searches and recording the results
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Tuesday, 16 April 2024, 5:27 PM


This Prezi gives guidance on structuring your searches to get the most out of the databases you are using.

1. Maximising your search results

Identifying appropriate key words and familiarising yourself with smart ways to build your database searches using Boolean Operators, phrase searching and truncation are crucial steps. However, there are ways to order and structure your individual searches so that they complement each other and you harness the real power of a database to search across 1000s of articles. This will deliver the results you need.   

This short Prezi gives further guidance.

Contact the Teaching & Learning Support Team if you need help with structuring a search:  Contact the T&LS Team  

2. Recording your search results

When carrying out searches for information about your research subject over a long period of time you will find it useful to record your progress at each stage of the process so that you avoid duplicating work. This recording process can include:


You will need to register with the databases that you use frequently (e.g. Scopus), but this will save you time as you won't need to retype a search if you wish to repeat it. More importantly, it will build a record of searches for each of the key concepts in your research question, allow you to combine them and reflect changes in the focus of your research over a period of time.


This could be seen as a rather old-fashioned approach, but it will still help you to record and trace any changes in the scope and emphasis of your searches. You can also use a journal to record particularly successful search strategies and useful keywords and phrases; a research journal may well come to form a key part of your working papers. You can be flexible about content.

The following pages are from a researcher's journal:

There are no set rules for keeping a record of this kind, but this person has outlined a clear research problem and objective, and then kept detailed step-by-step notes of a search of the JSTOR database. The result is that the following journal article has been identified as being of particular interest:

  • David Bushnell, 'The Development of the Press in Great Colombia', Hispanic American Historical Review, 30(4), 432-52.

The researcher has included some brief instructions for further actions to take. Note also that the footnotes and bibliographies of this article may well signpost the way to further useful items: mining an article for information in this way is called 'snowballing'.

Why not get started by downloading a copy of our search record template. Click on the thumbnail below:

Worksheet image

The Teaching & Learning Support Team are always contactable:  Contact the T&LS Team  

3. Reviewing and refining your searches

You will need to become confident in reviewing and refining your searches in order to:

  • make sure that the references you are retrieving are always as relevant to your research as possible, and

  • ensure that the number of hits that make up your results is manageable, i.e. not too many or too few to evaluate effectively.

Databases come equipped with extensive functionality to help you overcome these problems.

This Prezi provides more information.

The Teaching & Learning Support Team are always ready to help:  Contact the T&LS Team  

4. Search demonstrations

Whilst all of the techniques that we have explored here can be used by researchers working in any discipline, a search undertaken by a Medical researcher will be significantly different from a search undertaken by a researcher in the Humanities or a researcher working in the field of Science and Engineering. We have provided examples here of a research question and research topics.

Researchers in Science and Medicine can watch this short video which demonstrates how to put all these techniques into practice using a search of PubMed. Our research question is:

Is vaccination effective against the spread of bird flu?

HSS researchers can watch this short video which demonstrates how to put all of these techniques into practice using a search of Scopus. Our research topic is:

'Social media activism and the rise of the Green Economy in China'

Contact the Teaching & Learning Support Team if you need additional help:  Contact the T&LS Team