Delimiting a search question

Beginning a degree project/essay, you might not have a clearly defined research question. In that case you can start by doing a wide search to get an overview of the subject area. Creating a mindmap over what you already know about the subject might help you to delimit what you want to find out more about. The way you define your topic will have an impact on how you build your search strategy.

Example with mindmap

In the example below we have created a mindmap over the subject area "diarrhea in children" and written down what we have found through our first broad searches. On that basis we have decided that what we want to find more information about is prevention and, even more specifically, about hygiene and sanitation. Eventually we define our question in the following way: ”What hygiene interventions are effective for preventing diarrhea in children?”

Example of a mindmap

We have seen that the subject area is quite large and we need to specify what we want to focus on in our search so as not to end up with thousands of irrelevant results. For example, we may not want to find articles about rota virus vaccine which are not relevant to our research question. Planning our search in this way makes it easier to choose suitable search terms.

Short video on how to use a mindmap in order to delimit a search (2:31 min)

From research question to search strategy

Having defined our research question we can now build our search based on the meaning-bearing words:

Research question: ”What hygiene interventions are effective for preventing diarrhea in children?”

Search strategy: (Hygiene OR sanitation) AND prevent* AND diarrhea OR diaho AND (child* OR infant*)

Dividing a research question

Sometimes you might need to divide your research question into a few subquestions. If your research question is about the nurse's role in smoking cessation, you might want to include background information on the negative effects of smoking, statistics on smoking in a particular population and different kinds of smoking interventions used today. You would have to create different searches using different search terms to find information addressing all of your subquestions.

Last updated: 2022-05-17