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Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Application Resources

What is a Search Strategy

A search strategy is more than a list of keywords used in a search. It includes the way the keywords were combined using one more of the connectors AND, OR, or NOT. For example,

  • keyword, keyword, keyword is not a search strategy.
  • keyword and keyword NOT keyword is a search strategy.

Note that USDA also specifically looks for search strategies that include the use of the keyword alternative or alternatives, e.g. animal testing alternatives.

Conducting a Search Strategy

Here are some tips to help you develop a good search strategy.

1. Use keywords & not a complete sentence or sentence fragment like you would in Google.

2. Use keywords derived from your research topic.

3. Use & to connect two or three keywords per strategy. Any more than that risks overwhelming the database's search engine & increases the risk of a "false negative" result That is, returning no search results when in fact there are relevant articles present in the database.

4. Use quotation marks when you want to search a phrase, e.g., "postive reinforcement", "territorial intrusion".

5. Wildcards, such as an asterisk, may be used at the end of truncated words, but should not be used within quotation marks.

6. Too few or poor results? Develop multiple search strategies using synonyms & related terms to find different results.

7. Save your search strategy to reuse as needed.

Worksheet and Instructions for Alternatives Literature Searching

Listed below are links for developing search strategies that help determine if alternatives exist in the scientific literature.