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Comparative Literature: Basic search strategy in 10 steps

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Particularly recommended for PhD students:




L'art de la these

Comment préparer et rédiger un mémoire de master, une thèse de doctorat ou tout autre travail universitaire à l'ère du Net (Broché). Michel Beaud ; en collaboration avec Magali Gravier et Alain de Tolédo.

Paris : Découverte, c2006.


SML, Stacks, LC Classification

LB2369 .B338 2006 (LC)

Boolean operators

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Basic search strategy in 10 steps

I would like to give some basic advice on how to conceive a pertinent search strategy that will help you to find necessary resources.  It will be particularly important for any search query in electronic resources (for e.g. in a database). 


The following list provides a guideline for you to follow in formulating search requests, viewing search results, and modifying search results.


These procedures can be followed for virtually any search request, from the simplest to the most complicated.  For some search requests, you may not want or need to go through a formal search strategy.  If you want to save time in the long run, however, it's a good idea to follow a strategy, especially when you're new to a particular database.


A basic search strategy can help you get used to each database's features and how they are expressed in a search query.  Following the 10 steps will also ensure good results if your search is multifaceted and you want to get the most relevant results.



The 10 steps are as follows:


1. Identify the important concepts of your search.

Let's use the following topic as an example of a research paper that you are writing: "Le monologue interieur dans la litterature francaise du 20eme siecle".

The important concepts would be:

  • Le monologue interieur
  • litterature francaise
  • 20eme siecle


2. Choose the keywords that describe these concepts.

Use the French and English terminology ~ very often databases features prefer English rather than French language. 

  • Monologue interieur or Interior monologue
  • litterature francaise or french literature
  • 20eme siecle or 20th century


3. Determine whether there are synonyms, related terms, or other variations of the keywords that should be included.


The best ways is to construct a table containing your concepts

Interior monologue or Monologue interieur

French literature or literature francaise

20th century or 20eme siecle

Stream of consciousness or Flux de conscience

French writing or ecriture francaise

Twentieth century or Vingtieme siecle

Self confession or Confession a soi

French novel  or  roman francais



French prose  or prose francaise



4. Determine which search features may apply, including truncation, proximity operators, Boolean operators, expression search, and so forth.


5. Choose a relevant database, library catalog, etc.


6. Read the search instructions on the database's home page.  Look for sections entitled "Help," "Advanced Search," "Frequently Asked Questions," and so forth.


7. Create a search expression, using syntax, which is appropriate for the search tool.


Example of query:


(((Interior monolo!) OR (Monologu! interieu!)) OR ("Stream of consciousness" OR "Flux de conscience"))) AND (("French literature" OR "literature francaise") OR ((French novel)  OR  (roman francais)) AND (((20 3n century) or (20 3n siecle)) OR ("Twentieth century" or "Vingtieme siecle")))



8. Evaluate the results.  How many hits were returned?  Were the results relevant to your query?


9. Modify your search if needed. Go back to steps 2-4 and revise your query accordingly.


10. Try the same search in a different database, following steps 5-9 above.