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International Studies: Plan Your Search

This guide contains resources and guidance to help students studying international studies courses.

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.

When you receive your assessment details, the first thing to do is to read it carefully and fully understand the requirements of the task. You need to plan your search before you use the library system. The planning involves the following 6 steps.

Step 1. Identify key concepts


Breaking down task topic into key concepts.

Example topic: 

To what extent is your country specialisation an imagined community with a distinct national identity?

Key concepts:

imagined community national identity a country you selected

Step 2. Identify synonyms


Researchers may use different terms to refer to these concepts. So it's important to think of what other terms could be used.

imagined community national identity a country you selected

socially constructed


China; Germany; Canada; Chile, etc.

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Some resources to help with brainstorming: 

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

Step 3. Connect keywords & 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. imagined community.

Use * at the end of a root word to search for variable endings of a root word, e.g. national* (can find national, nationalism, nationalist)

Step 4. Build effective searches


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


  1. "imagined community" AND "national identity" AND China

  2. ("imagined community" OR "socially constructed") AND ("national identity"  OR nationalism) AND China

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

Step 5: 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, but there are also other places to look.

Explore this study guide or contact us via the link below to discover more. 

Step 6: Evaluating information


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.