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InfoSkills voor Rechtswetenschappen

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 concepts that make up your topic. Suppose you have to answer this question in your paper: 

What are the effects of violent video games on aggression in teenagers? 

In this question, three concepts can be distinguished:

  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. 

violent video games
violent computer games
video game violence  
violent digital games
violent electronic games  
video game violence
aggressive behavior
antisocial behavior
bullying, hostility 
 hostile behavior
behavioral problems 

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 with the right terms. 


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
  • Do a Google definition search, for example type in the search box: define aggression).
  • Run a quick search in a library database and write down the keywords listed with the best results. 

A note for Dutch students: if your search terms are in Dutch, you should translate them into English. In most databases the search language is English.

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