How to determine a search query

It is important to determine your search query thoughtfully. This increases the chance that you will find the right information.

Based on your problem you construct:

  • just one search query, or
  • a search question (main question) that is subdivided into sub questions.

Example about social media

The main question is, for example:
What are the effects of the use of social media in higher education on the learning behavior of students?

The sub questions:

  • Is this effect the same for boys and girls?
  • Is this effect internationally comparable?
  • Are there different effects per social medium?
  • ...

Specify your search query as much as possible, here you can use the 5 W's:

  • Who
  • Where
  • When
  • What
  • Why

Open and closed questions

A search query can be open or closed. In most cases you can only answer a closed question with yes/no/maybe. Open questions usually provide concrete, factual information.

Example of a closed question:

Do students use social media in education?
Possible answers: yes/no/maybe/don't know

Example of an open question:

Which social media are used by students in education?
Possible answers: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on...

Try to formulate a main question that consists of three elements. These are usually the target group, subject and process. In the example about social media these are students, social media and learning behaviour.

Last updated on 18 November 2020.