Understanding your information needs

Types of search (quick vs comprehensive)

Quick search

A quick search aims to find a small amount of information in a general topic area. You might use only one source, such as the Library catalogue or a multidisciplinary database.

Reasons to conduct a quick search include:

  • to find background information on your topic (such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias, textbooks or review articles)
  • to locate a small number of general research articles on a topic
  • to help you plan a comprehensive search.

Comprehensive search

A comprehensive search aims to find a much larger volume of information that closely addresses your research question or topic. It involves searching multiple information sources using a structured strategy. Sources might include disciplinary databases, multidisciplinary databases and grey literature, among others.  

Reasons to conduct a comprehensive search include:

  • to capture more research literature on your topic, including seminal works
  • to discover the most up-to-date, cutting edge research
  • to find different information types (e.g. primary sources, research articles, statistics, reports)
  • to locate all the evidence addressing a question (e.g. for evidence-based practice or systematic reviews)
  • to demonstrate that you’ve researched widely and recognise the key authors in your field.

To identify what type of search best suits you, first consider how much and what types of information you need for your task.

Learn more about search strategies and why they are important.

Before you search

Understand your information needs

  1. Read through your assessment task or research outline and consider what you need to do: Understanding your assignment question - YouTube.
  2. Do a quick Library catalogue search for background information (such as books and book chapters) to develop a better understanding of the concepts, words and phrases in your assignment or research question.

Consider where to search

  1. Identify what types of information you need to find.
  2. Select the best database(s) or other sources to search for your research question.
  3. Conduct a quick scoping search to see if you’re likely to find what you need in your selected database(s). A scoping search may be satisfactory for quick searching.

Plan your search

If you are conducting a comprehensive search, it’s best to first plan your search strategy using these steps:

  1. Identify keywords for your research topic or question.
  2. Identify synonyms for your keywords.
  3. Prepare a search plan.

While you search

  1. Use appropriate search operators and wildcards to search as widely as possible.
  2. Search for subject headings, if they are used in the database you are searching.
  3. Apply filters to narrow your search.
  4. Look for Help, ? or Search Tips from the database search interface to make the most from your search.

After you search

  1. Evaluate your search results to see if the results match your information needs.
  2. Refine your search strategy to find more relevant results.
  3. Export your search results to EndNote or other formats.
  4. View and save the full text.
  5. Save your search to re-run it later if necessary.
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