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University of Portland Clark Library

COM 101: Introduction to Communication Studies: Increasing Search Success

Creating an Effective Search Strategy

  • Start by writing a short description of your research question, such as: Do feelings of loneliness increase or decrease during social media use? Define the elements of your research question; make sure you have accurately identified what you're looking for.
    • For example: What do you mean by "social media"? Are you thinking of a specific application?
  • Search relevant databases for one element at a time.
  • Gather all of the relevant terms to describe each element: Look at the database subject headings, author-supplied keywords, abstract. Each database may use different subject headings for your elements.
    • For example, Loneliness might lead to Isolation, Alienation. Social Media might lead to Online Social Networks, and to specific social media platforms.
  • Use the asterisk (*) to find different variations of search terms:‚Äč
    • lonel* will find: lonely, loneliness....
    • isolat* will find: isolation, isolated....

Filter Your Search Results

Text of the above image for web accessibility:

Improve your search by using the options on the sidebar to the left of your search results.


  • Choose Peer Reviewed
  • Do not check Full Text (you will miss articles that are available online with just one or two mouse clicks)
  • Date Range (limit your search to current articles)

Select Show More to see other limit options (Language, Age Group, etc.)

Choose Subject: Thesaurus Term to see the terms most associated with your topic; you can select terms to focus your search, or try a new search using the suggested terms. 

Put it All Together

Combining search terms example: social media OR online social networks OR instagram AND lonel* OR isolat* OR alienat*

Put each concept of your search into a separate search box (this will find articles that include all of your concepts).

In each search box, enter all the terms you brainstormed for that concept. Enter OR between each search term to find articles that include any of those terms.

Using a Thesaurus and Preferred Subject Terms in Your Database Search | 503.943.7111 or 800.841.8261 | 5000 N. Willamette Blvd., Portland, OR 97203-5798
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