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American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Information, Education Committee: Computer Searching of Chemical Abstracts: Developing a Search Strategy.

Steps in Developing a Search Strategy

Before Going Online

  1. Determine main topics of the question
  2. Determine the different ways of expressing each topic:
    1. Consider how each topic would be expressed in each searchable part of the records.
    2. Allow for singular and plural forms of words.
    3. Allow for variations and plural forms of words.
    4. Allow for abbreviations.
    5. Consider searching in other parts of the record. For example, considered limiting to specific years or specifying certain authors.
  3. Determine how to connect the terms. Connectors include the Boolean operators — OR, AND, NOT
  4. Anticipate problems and plan how to modify search. For example, determine how to narrow your search if too many references are found and how to broaden search if too few references are found.
  5. Write out the search strategy, so you know exactly what you plan to do after beginning the search


  1. Begin searching.
  2. After executing the search strategy, check the relevance of the records by displaying a few answers. Display answers in the SAMPLE format which shows the article title and index terms. These sample records can give ideas about other terms to search and can identify other ways to improve you search, such as adding abbreviations or adding broader/narrower terms.
  3. Alter the search strategy, if needed.
  4. Display references.
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