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Civil & Environmental Engineering: Plan Your Search

This guide contains resources and guidance to help students studying Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Why plan your search?


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 in a particular way to get good results.

Use this page to learn how to plan your search and find the best scholarly information sources to use. 

Unpacking your assignment

Your first step before you find any information is figuring out what your assignment is asking you and what your topic is about.

The following video shows you how to break down your assessment and get started brainstorming keywords you can use.

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

What are the main ideas in your question? For example - in this one:

In a wet climate zone, the foundation of a house is often under continuous contact with moisture. How to restrict moisture transfer between concrete and wood -frame structure.

The key concepts are:

Concrete Foundation Wood Moisture

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. 









lightning bolt


Some resources to help with brainstorming: 

  • Google & Wikipedia
  • Dictionaries & Thesauri
  • Your textbooks and readings
  • Reference books & Encyclopedias

Step 3: Build your search


Boolean Operators are a way of telling a database or search engine how to do your search. Watch the video to learn how.

Use Boolean Operators to combine your keywords & synonyms into a search. You can build multiple searches using different synonyms & keywords.


  • Use OR to combine synonyms & similar words:
Key Concept Keywords & Synonyms Search



(wood OR timber)
  • Use AND to combine your key concepts together: 

concrete AND foundation AND (wood OR timber) AND (moisture OR water)

  • The truncation symbol (usually an asterisk *) is useful for finding different endings of a word, e.g. wood* will search for wood, wooden
  • Use “quotation marks” for exact phrase, e.g. “civil engineering”

concrete AND foundation* AND (wood* OR timber) AND (moisture OR water)

Step 4: Start searching


You will need to find different types of information during your studies. These may include: 

  • Books & book chapters
  • Journal articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Standards & statistics
  • Reports
  • Grey literature

The type of information you are looking for will determine where you search, and how you search. 

Using the steps above will help you find most of these information types.

Having a good search strategy is important, but it is also essential that you search for information in the right places.The library catalogue is a good place to start and a good place to look for books. If you are looking for journal articles, you should try search in one of our databases! 

Explore this study guide or ask a librarian to discover more. 

Step 5: 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.