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Searching for Sources: Developing Keywords

Search Strategy: How to Develop Keywords and Find Subject Terms

State your topic in one or two sentences. Be as specific as possible.

Examples: I want to find information on how home schooling affects social development.
  I want to investigate the seasonal patterns in the vertical distribution of phytoplankton.

Underline the main concepts in your topic summary. Concepts are the different ideas which make up each unique search topic. Most topics can be broken down into two or three main concepts.

Examples: I want to find information on how home schooling affects social development.
  I want to investigate the seasonal patterns in the vertical distribution of phytoplankton.

Create a list of words or phrases which describes each of your identified concepts and use these in your search:

  • Try to think of appropriate synonyms or variant forms since a variety of words and phrases could be used to describe the same concept.
    • social development could also relate to socialization or social skills;
    • adolescents could also be referred to as teens or teenagers.
  • Consider possible hierarchical relationships within a particular concept.
    • i.e. for a geographic concept, are you only interested in a particular country or is the broader region also of interest?
  • Widen, then narrow. If you’re not sure what concepts might be related, read news, magazine, or encyclopedia entries to understand how your topic relates to the overall issue.
    • Reading a news article on home schooling, the topics of regulation, testing, and extracurricular activities are mentioned. These might be additional terms to search.
  • Use word truncation. Examine each keyword to see if it can be truncated with a symbol (e.g., *, #, ?, +) to a shorter "root" form.
    • i.e. prevent* will retrieve prevention, preventing, prevented, or prevents
    • To find the proper truncation symbol, consult the database’s Help section

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