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Explore and refine your topic: Build your search profile

For a fun, and a bit cheesy, introduction to creating a search profile or strategy watch Sydney University's video Search Smarter: creating searching strategies (2:42). Try Sydney University's Nesting game to check your understanding of how to group similar concepts in sets ( i.e. nesting) before combining sets in a search profile.

The logic you use in building a search affects the search result. Read more about about this in the next two tabs and test your understanding in the exercise Broaden or Narrow.

After finding relevant words for your research topic you need to group these in sets according to the key concepts they represent and combine the sets in a logical way. In library databases and catalogs, this is done using Boolean or logical operators such as AND, OR and NOT.

1. Take the search terms you have selected for the key concept. These words belong together in a set because they are all related to the same concept. To mark these words as belonging to the same set you use ( ) parentheses. The relationship between the words in this set is expressed with the Boolean OR as each word is a way of expressing the same concept. If you want to exclude a related concept from the set put the word in the last position in the set preceded by the Boolean NOT. If the concept you want to exclude is expressed in more than one word put quotation marks " " around the phrase.

2. Words belonging to another key concept (or variable) in your research topic you put into a separate set.

3. If you want to retrieve articles in which both variables are mentioned you combine the two sets with the Boolean AND.

An example of a (simple) search profile is:

("employee engagement" OR "worker engagement" NOT "employee satisfaction")


(leadership OR management OR supervisors)

Many library databases help you build a search. Look for the Advanced Search interface - this makes it easier to group search words per key concept and to combine searches without worrying about where to put the parentheses.

Boolean operators
Operator Use Example In the search results
AND Between search terms referring to different parts of the topic "employee engagement" AND "job design" Finds only those documents that contain all of the terms
OR Between search terms referring to the same part of the topic (including synonyms or variant spellings) "employee engagement" OR "worker engagement" Finds documents that contain any of the terms
NOT To exclude search terms "employee engagement" NOT "employee satisfaction" Excludes documents that include the term preceded by NOT from the search

Exercise: Nesting game

Exercise: Broaden or Narrow

In the exercise Broaden or Narrow you can test what happens with the number of results when you add search terms, using Boolean operators.

Start exercise