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Latin American Studies: Developing a Search Strategy

Search Strategies

Keyword Searching:
Basic keyword searches are a fine place to start. 

  • Single words expressing your concept
  • Make sure you express all concepts related to your interest within each search
  • Identify synonyms for each concept
  • Search terms with more than one word in quotes (ex. “native american”)
  • Truncation symbols (usually * or $) help search words with multiple endings (singular, plural, etc…  Such as pollut* = pollution, pollute, polluted, polluting.)
  • Also, keep a list of useful keywords and search terms to use in successive searches and other databases.

How to Find Specific Kinds of Articles:
No method of searching for specific kinds of articles is fool-proof.  These tips, however, will be of great use:

  • For finding literature reviews:  Entering search terms such as literature review, overview, systematic review, or overview of the literature, all help to identify articles that are literature reviews.
  • For finding empirical articles:  Entering keywords such as “study” or “survey” help to retrieve an article that’s empirical, or evidence-based.  Words such as “methods” or “methodology” (qualitative or quantitative), participants, and “results” or “findings”, also help to identify an empirical article.  Review the article’s abstract as well as the title when seeking these words.
  • For finding primary research:  Using previous studies found in review articles is one way of locating primary research articles for one’s own literature review.  NOTE:  Also find new primary research on your topic in order to update the scholarly research in the field.

Maximizing returns from your search results:

  1. Check to see if keywords are provided within article title pages that might inform your successive searches. 
  2. Identify leading journals and search the recent issues for the latest information in your area of interest; use references from those articles to gather literature reviews, empirical articles, and primary research sources.
  3. When you start seeing a specific author’s name popping up frequently, you’ve found an expert; make sure you include the work of experts in your field to ensure that your literature review is scholarly and timely!

Subject Heading Searches:
Check the subject headings within specific articles to refine successive searches for more focused results

Scholarly / Peer-Reviewed:
Many databases give you the option of checking a box if you wish to retrieve only scholarly / peer-reviewed articles.  I suggest that you absolutely do this, AFTER you’ve done an initial search to cull all potential useful keywords and subject headings from all the articles in the system, peer-reviewed or not.