The approach you take to searching for information should vary widely, depending on how much you know about the topic already (prior knowledge), your research topic, the depth of your research and the type of resource you are using.  Just as you should use varied sources for quality research, you should match your search strategy to your prior knowledge, research purpose and resource type.

Strategy Advantages Disadvantages Examples
  • Shows you related topics & sub-topics
  • Good if you have little prior knowledge
  • Helps you get familiar with a topic, to develop deeper search strategies
  • You may miss detailed, expert information
  • Your research may be too superficial or general
  • Browsing the 940s for books on World War I
  • Browsing through encyclopedia articles, to find keywords for deeper research
Drill Down
  • Helps you narrow topic, by moving from general to specific information
  • Shows you related topics and sub-topics
  • You may miss detailed, expert information
  • Using categories in online database to narrow topic (i.e., Canadian Student Research Centre’s Search by Topic)
  • Using book’s Table of Contents to find information on sub-topics
Subject Headings
  • Cataloguers have indexed information under clear subject headings, to get to precise information
  • Helps you narrow or broaden your search
  • Provides excellent related links, especially when you’re not finding what you need
  • Headings not always intuitive – you may not understand some of the terminology
  • Use the related Subject Heading links in a library catalogue or online database search to broaden or narrow the topic
Keyword Search
  • Allows you to get very specific information
  • Allows you to search for specific words in a catalogue record or full-text article
  • Boolean searches can be very specific
  • Captures common terms, sometimes not used by cataloguers
  • Only as good as your prior knowledge or how well you’ve prepared for the search: if you don’t know the topic well, you won’t develop good keywords for finding deeper information
  • Use keywords to find references in full-text articles for online databases (Virtual Library)
  • Use keywords to find references in websites
  • Use keywords in combination with subject headings / media types to drill deeper into online database resources