Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Information Skills: 2. Formulating a search query

Formulating a search query

You use your problem statement to reach the search query. This could be one search query or it could be a search query (main question) that is divided into sub-questions. Building on the example above, you could formulate the following main question:

“What are the effects of the use of social media in higher education on student learning behaviour?”

And the following sub-questions:

·         Is the effect the same for boys and girls?

·         Is the effect similar across different countries?

·         Can different effects be observed for different forms of social media?

·         …

It is important to formulate your search query as carefully as possible, because this increases the likelihood of you finding information that is relevant enough to answer your search query.


After the orientation phase, you will usually conclude that you need to delineate your research. Delineation means defining the elements of your question. This clarifies what you are searching for and helps you carry out your search in a more targeted way.

If you have a well-delineated question, your search will be much more efficient!

Open or closed questions

A search query can be open or closed. In most cases, a closed question can only be answered with yes/no/maybe. Open questions usually deliver specific, factual information.

Example of a closed question:

       -     Do students use social media in education?
             Possible answers: Yes/no/I don’t know

Example of an open question:

       -     Which forms of social media are used by students in education?
             Possible answers: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Try to formulate a main question that consists of three elements. In most cases, these are target group, topic and process. In the example, they are students, social media and learning behaviour.