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Criminology: Plan Your Search

This study guide helps Criminology students to learn the effective search strategy and find relevant resources supporting criminology studies.

Plan your search with a search strategy


At university you are expected to find and use scholarly information:

  • in your assignments
  • to prepare for class
  • to explore new theories and ideas

However, to find scholarly information you need to search with a strategy to get good results.

A search strategy is an organized structure of search terms that can help find relevant resources for a topic.  An effective search strategy involves the following 4 steps.

Step 1: Identify your key concepts


Before you find any information, identify the main ideas (or key concepts) in your assignment question or research topic.


Explore the impact of domestic violence on media may influence legal responses to the issue. 

The key concepts are: 

domestic violence media legal

Step 2: Brainstorm keywords & synonyms


Different words can be used to describe the same concept.

Think of other words that could be used to describe your key concepts. Synonyms should also be included. 


domestic violence media legal

family violence

intimate partner violence


social media


case law


Some resources to help with brainstorming: 

  • Google & Wikipedia
  • Dictionaries & Thesauri
  • Reference books & Encyclopedias

Step 3: Connect keywords and synonyms


Boolean Operators are words that connect search terms (keywords) to perform a search that a database can understand. ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ are commonly used Boolean Operators.
AND finds results that use both keywords. Use it to connect key concepts.
OR finds results that use either of the keywords. Use it to connect synonyms/alternative words.

Watch this short video and understand more about Boolean Operators.

Phrase searching and truncation can be also helpful! 

Use “     “  to do phrase searching. It narrows the search to retrieve results in which the exact phrase appears, e.g. "domestic violence" “social media”.

Use * at the end of a root word to search for variable endings of a root word, e.g. environment* can find environment, environmental, and environmentalism.

Step 4. Build effective searches 


You now have the keywords, synonyms, and connectors. You can build effective searches according to the previous steps.


  1. "domestic violence" AND (media OR "social media") AND law

  2. (“domestic violence" OR "family violence") AND (news OR "social media") AND case law

Note: Searching is exploring.  You need to modify your searches as well try different searches until you get relevant results.

Review your results


Not all the information you get from a search will be useful. A successful search will show results relevant to your topic. If your results are not relevant go back and try different keywords in your search.

Find relevant results by checking the: 

Even if your information is relevant, it might not be good quality. Check if it passes the C.R.A.P. Test before you use it.