Which words you search for and how you enter them into databases can have a big impact on the number of search results you get and their relevance to your topic.
Taking the time to choose your search terms carefully can save you time in the long run, because you’ll end up with better results.
The first step is to brainstorm some keywords -- words and short phrases that are most likely to show up in books and articles about your topic.
It helps to include synonyms and similar phrases, since different sources might use different language to describe the same concepts.
If you're researching how women talk to their doctors, you might consider keywords like:
As you search, keep an eye out for more keywords.
*Subject terms are tags or labels that an expert assigned to the article that sum up what it's about. Some databases also include author-supplied keywords. These terms are often linked and will lead to similar articles, providing you with even better results.
Here's what subject terms look like in one of our databases (note: MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings):
Sometimes you can get what you need just by typing relevant search terms into a database. If that doesn't work, there are some strategies you can use to tell the database exactly what you're looking for.
AND & OR (called "Boolean operators") are commands that tell the database how to look up your terms.
If you want to find information about doctors' communication, try searching for adolescents AND anxiety. This tells the database that you only want articles that mention both doctors and communication.
OR gives the database alternative words/phrases to try. For example, searching for adolescents OR teens will find articles with either one of those terms.
Use OR with synonyms to broaden your results. Searching for "adolescence or teens" will usually give you more results than just one of these terms, since different sources might use different terms.
Use parentheses around similar terms: (adolescence OR teens) AND (anxiety OR stress).
Most, but not all, databases recognize these commands:
Use the asterisk (*) to search for all possible endings of a word. For example, "therap*" will find therapies, therapies, therapist, therapists, theraputic, therapeutically, etc.
Use quotation marks (“ ”) to search for a phrase. For example, "cognitive behavioral therapy" will find those words in that exact order.