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I need help coming up with search terms for my topic. No matter what terms I enter, I don't seem to get many results.

Last Updated: Jan 23, 2012  |  89 Views
Topics: Research FAQ

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Feel free to e-mail the librarians if you would like help coming up with terms for your specific topic.

Keyword Searching

Most library databases and Internet search engines require the use of keywords, short words or phrases that represent topics you want to find in your results. By making yourself familiar with a few simple concepts, you can improve the quality of those results.

Generating Keywords

Think of the questions that you need to answer, then identify the most important words or concepts from your questions.  Do not include articles, such as “a” or “an”, or prepositions, such as “with”, “in”, or “on”.  For example, if you were researching drug testing of Olympic athletes your most important concepts might be:

  • Drug testing         
  • Olympic
  • Athletes

Generating Synonyms

Then think of synonyms for your words, other words that have the same meaning.  For example:

  • Olympics
  • Olympic games
  • Drug
  • Drugs
  • Steroids
  • Performance enhancing drugs

Combining Keywords

By thinking of different words that can be used to describe your subject you will increase your chances of finding information.

All of these words are your keywords

When you search the library catalog to find books on your topic, or when you search a database to find articles, search using different combinations of your keywords.  For example, you might try the following combinations:

  • Olympic athlete drug testing
  • Olympic games performance enhancing drugs
  • Olympics steroids athletes
  • … and so on.

You can also use the words AND and OR to combine keywords in complex searches:

  • Use AND to connect search terms: olympics AND steroids
  • Use OR to connect related concepts or synonyms: steroids OR drugs
  • Use parentheses to combine these strategies: olympics AND (steroids OR drugs)

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