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Research Fundamentals: Create a Search Strategy

What does a search strategy accomplish?

Now that you have a research question, it's time to take it apart and use it to create a search strategy for beginning your research.

A well-designed search strategy:

  • saves you time in the long run
  • allows you to search for information in many different places
  • helps you to find a larger amount of relevant information

Begin with your research question or thesis statement. What are the key concepts in this statement or question?

For example, consider the following research question:

Does having a diverse workforce affect company profits?


The most important concepts in this question are diverse workforce and company profits.

Before we go ahead and start searching for information on these concepts, we'll take a moment to create a list of synonyms and related terms, using the notes we took while doing background research. These terms will help us find more relevant information faster when we begin to look for sources.


Below are two strategies you can use to shape your search strategy.


brain·storm·ing noun: 1. A method of shared problem solving in which all members of a group spontaneously contribute ideas. 2. A similar process undertaken by a person to solve a problem by rapidly generating a variety of possible solutions.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000


Brainstorming is a free-association technique of spontaneously listing all words, concepts, ideas, questions, and knowledge about a topic. After making a lengthy list, sort the ideas into categories. This allows you to inventory your current awareness of a topic, decide what perspectives are most interesting and/or relevant, and decide in which direction to steer your research.

Concept Mapping

con·cept map·ping noun phrase: 1. A process, focused on a topic, in which group or individual brainstorming produces a visual graphic that represents how the creator(s) thinks about a subject, topic, etc. It illustrates how knowledge is organized for the group or individual.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000


You may create a concept map as a means of brainstorming; or, following your brainstorm, you may take the content you have generated and create your map from it. Concept maps may be elaborate or simple and are designed to help you organize your thinking about a topic, recognize where you have gaps in your knowledge, and help to generate specific questions that may guide your research. Combining brainstorming and concept mapping can be a productive way to begin your thinking about a topic area. Try to establish as your goal the drafting of a topic definition statement that outlines the area you will be researching and about which you will present your findings.

Learn more about concept mapping: Concept Maps - UNC Chapel Hill Learning Center


Follow these steps to create your own concept map.
Allow yourself at least 30 minutes to complete this activity.

  1. Get several clean sheets of paper and several markers of different colors.
  2. In the center of a page, draw a small picture of your topic. This can be either abstract or representational and the purpose is to jump-start creative thinking.
  3. To generate ideas about your topic, start writing key words on spokes radiating out from the central picture. Write only single words (not phrases), and keep the lines connected to the central picture.
  4. Free-associate rapidly and DO NOT CENSOR any idea. Keep writing constantly, and try to fill the page as quickly as possible. (Start another page if necessary.)
  5. Use different colors whenever possible.
  6. When you run out of ideas about your central picture, start associating ideas from the words you've generated.
  7. After you run out of words, look at the results and try to find patterns and associations between ideas. Draw arrows and use colors and pictures to connect related ideas.
  8. Redraw your map. Eliminate any extraneous ideas and group related ideas into some kind of organization. You should now have several important concepts related to your topic. You might also have a rudimentary structure for how to present these ideas. You may be able to generate a series of questions that will need to be answered during your investigations.
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  • Last Updated: Jan 12, 2024 10:26 AM
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