Expert search strategies


Like Odysseus I have faced many challenges on my learning journey into all things inquiry.

Arming myself with the belief that I had to have at least SOME of the intelligence and cunning of Odysseus, I set about exploring search strategies for research.  I began by asking questions and seeking information.  What databases should I use?  Actually, what is meant by a database in this context? What is the best strategy for finding information on these databases? I had really only used Quick Find at the University Library prior to this…clearly I had much to learn. I found information about what databases to try; and search strategies that could be applied to these databases.  I watched video clips and tutorials, I asked experts.  Then I felt ready to have a go at using some of this information.  Below you will see some artefacts from my journey…

I needed to clarify my path, so I created a mind map:


I began with the database entitled A+ Education (Informit).  As this is an Australian database, I was hoping to use it to retrieve some articles relevant to the Australian curriculum (History) as that is the umbrella under which the students in my ILA are working.


With the inclusion of the term ‘curriculum’ there were many results mentioning the Australian Curriculum.  This is what I was hoping for as I am especially interested in researching ways to enact inquiry elements of the Australian curriculum in the context of a school setting.  Note that I limited the date range, as I wanted fairly recent articles on curriculum and inquiry learning.



With A+ Education, if you click on ‘Complete record’, you can see the subject terms that the article has been catalogued under. This can give you further ideas for search terms to try.

Second and third searches:


I decided to leave the same ‘inquiry’ terms but to add in history, in two different places.  Obviously, the attempt to find articles on “history curriculum’ was TOO specific!

 Out of the three articles that resulted from the second search – one is interestingly calling for a balance between teacher-directed and inquiry based approaches…interesting for the viewpoint!

 From the 44 articles, and even when whittled down to the 3, I had a good range of articles to choose from that discuss inquiry learning in the context of the curriculum.

Informit has the capability to link with the QUT Library and search other databases for full text of the source, if it is available.  There are also often links to PDF documents in the source description.  You can also save your citation into a program such as EndNote.



I checked my key word ‘inquiry’ in the thesauri to reassure myself that I was using the correct search terms.  I was satisfied that I had used a sufficient representation of the term ‘inquiry’.

A+Thesauri snipped

The second database I explored was ProQuest Education.  I used the same search terms as experimented with above:

curriculum AND (“guided inquiry” OR “inquiry learning”) AND (primary OR elementary) and added AND Australia (as ProQuest is NOT an Australian database).  I got 998 results – which I considered too many to go through.  New question – how can I refine these results?

I looked at the Identifier/Keywords (similar to subject terms in A+) in Indexing (details).  I looked at one article that seemed like it may be useful and used its subject terms to focus the search.


As you can see I now had 487 results.  I decided to check how many databases ProQuest was accessing.  Fifteen!!  That seemed to be too many.  I unchecked all but ERIC, LISA and ProQuest Education Journals.  I added the search term “research skills”.  The result was 19 articles, all focused on what I was looking for.  In ProQuest there are similar ‘full text’ and citation facilities as found in A+ Education.


It is more difficult to use Thesauri in ProQuest because each of the databases has its own Thesaurus.  Having already established that my key terms were appropriate, I chose not to pursue this.

ProQuest Thesauri snipped


The journey continued…on to Google Scholar!

Before I began, I ensured that my settings for Google Scholar included library links for QUT Library.  This allows the user to find the full text in QUT library databases, if available.

I chose to continue with the search terms that had proved effective thus far, including AND Australia, as again this was not an Australian database.

Search one:  (“guided inquiry” AND “inquiry learning”) AND Australia AND primary AND history

google scholar search 1

Not too bad – but I decided I could do better by limiting to ‘since 2009’.

I also decided that I could do without articles focused on inquiry in science or mathematics, as it did not fit in with my ILA.  So I added NOT science AND NOT mathematics.

google scholar search since 2009

This decreased the result size however I was STILL getting science related articles. Time for a change of strategy.

Next I replaced the word NOT with the minus sign in front of science.  This worked much better as, although only two results, they were refined to precisely my needs:

google scholar 4

The great thing about Google Scholar is that, once settings are correct,  researchers are able to click on the hyperlink to the right and go to the full text result.

Google Scholar full text snipped

Below is a summary and comparison of my experiences with the databases, in table form.  I chose not to use truncation, as the truncation function won’t search for phrases e.g. inquiry learning, just forms of a word stem e.g. inquir* = inquiry OR inquiries OR inquirer OR inquired OR inquire OR inquiries OR inquiring.  There were not a great deal of search strings required, as with the careful use of Boolean tools, key words, limiters such as date range, the use of brackets and of quotation marks I was able to refine the searches to satisfy my research requirements.


informit tableproquest tablegoogle scholar table

Below is a video demonstrating my search strategies when using Google:


One comment on “Expert search strategies

  1. Hi Tanya, I like the way you limited your enquiry to a time range as this brings up the most relevant results for the new history curriculum. Isn’t that a great feature of A+Education? I also liked the way you thought of new words for search terms (identifier) as that made it much more interesting to read through. Another great idea was to put your “this” or “that” terms in parenthesis to prioritise your search.

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