Student Life

Sample Search Strategy

An organized plan for researching a subject

Subject: Child Abuse

  1. Start with reference books and databases to define and narrow subject and come up with subject headings to search under.

Encyclopedias: Encyclopedia Americana (also available online through the Library)

I found:

    • Definitions and statistics
    • Types of abuse
    • Abusers
    • Treatment
    • Bibliography

Subject Encyclopedias: Encyclopedia of Sociology

I found:

    • Family violence
    • Incest
    • Sexual Violence

Reference Databases: Cerdo Reference and Gale Virtual Reference Library (online through the Library)

Bibliographies: None found

Statistical Sources: Almanacs (also available through FirstSearch and LexisNexis Academic Statistical Abstract (also online)

  1.  Determine key words — Subject heading — to search

If needed, consult Library of Congress Subject Headings or Sears List of Subject Headings (Located in Reference Section)

I found:

    • Child abouse
    • Battered child syndrome
    • Child neglect
    • Cruelty to children
    • Child abuse programs
  1.  Use the library catalog to find:
    • Books
    • Audio-visual materials
    • Electronic Books

If nothing is found with a subject search, try the keyword or advanced search.
Use the SILO Locator and WorldCat (online through the Library) to find books available in other libraries


  1. Consult indexes and databases – periodical and newspaper, print or electronic (online through Library)

In this case:

    • EBSCOhost Academic Search Premier
    • Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature
    • PsychARTICLES
    • ERIC
    • LexisNexis Academic
    • Issues & Controversies
    • Des Moines Register (Proquest)
    • Newsbank

Some will be more helpful than others. It all depends on the emphasis of your search. Periodicals are more up-to-date than books! Articles are usually more specific, dealing with one aspect of the subject.

  1. Check sources on the Internet

Health and government sources on child abuse, as well as agencies that deal with the issue, are available on the Web, as well as agencies that deal with the issue.  The library web page includes a list of online government resources.  Make sure to check the “about us” section of a web site to make sure the information is reliable.

  1. When in doubt, ask the librarian for assistance
  2. If you still don’t find enough information, ask about interlibrary loan

Advantages of using a search strategy:

You can cover all type of sources — not hit and miss.
You can evaluate and eliminate sources to find those best suited to your research.
You won’t end up trying to write a 300-page paper in 10 pages!