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InfoSkills for Humanities & Digital Sciences

InfoSkills @ TiU

1. Identifying search terms

Good search terms are the key to finding relevant sources. This applies to search engines, but even more so to databases. But how do you find the right search terms for your subject? This is how you go about it. 

➊ Identify the main concepts in your topic

The first step is identifying important words (concepts) that make up your topic. Suppose you have to answer the following question in a paper: 

Do violent video games increase aggression in teenagers? 

There are three main concepts in this topic:

  1. violent video games
  2. aggression
  3. teenagers

➋ Identify search terms for each concept 

The next step is to create a simple table in which you write down or type your concepts. Fill in the table with all the search terms you can think of or find. 

CONCEPT  1 CONCEPT  2 CONCEPT  3
violent video games
violent computer games
video game violence  
violent digital games
violent electronic games  
video game violence
aggression
aggressive behavior
antisocial behavior
bullying, hostility 
 hostile behavior
behavioral problems 
teenagers
​youth
teens
teenagers
juveniles
adolescents

By using different search terms that mean (roughly) the same thing for each concept, you ensure that you don't miss out on relevant sources simply because you haven't searched the database with the right terms. 

Tips

If you don't know much about your topic, it can be hard to think of synonyms and related words. Here are some things you can do to find suitable search terms:

  • Consult one of the library's subject-specific encyclopedias.
  • Look for synonyms, narrower/broader, and related terms on Thesaurus.com.
  • Do a Google definition search, for example type in the search box: define aggression).
  • Run a quick search in a database and write down the keywords and subject terms that are assigned to the best results. (Check module E for instructions on how to get to the databases.)

A note for Dutch students: if your search terms are in Dutch, translate them into English. In most databases you have to search in English.