ENGL 235 Introduction to Technical Communication (Wilber)

Writing a Proposal for Specific Audiences - for students in Ari Wilber's 235

Effective Search Strategies

Creating Search Terms

Make a list of search words.

To begin to search successfully you must use a variety of words that relate to your topic

  • Think of the different words and phrases that people use when they discuss your topic.

  • Consider broader and narrower words, and synonyms (words that have the same meaning).

  • Identify search words through your background research or ask a librarian for help in finding words that are used in your field of research.

Organize your search words by concept.

The starting research question "How do cigarettes impact children's health?" can be broken down into three key concepts: children AND cigarettes AND health. 

I can brainstorm related ideas and synonyms to also search - and I will add to my list as I learn.

Using Subject Terms

Use Subject Terms instead of keywords to find the most relevant articles on a topic.

If you can't figure out what keyword will find you articles on your topic, select Subject Terms (in Academic Search Complete) or the Thesaurus (in ProQuest and browse for the Subject Term used by the database.

  • Example: Instead of using the keyword phrase "genetically modified food," literature on that topic is organized under the Subject Term " GENETICALLY modified foods"

The Subject Terms list can also help you identify key subtopics, as in the second example below. 

(click on image to enlarge)

advanced search page showing how to search by subject terms

Helpful Search Strategies

When you search in the library catalog, databases, or the internet:

  • Use quotation marks to keep words together. Ex: "fast food"

Use AND to narrow and focus your search.

  • Ex: "fast food" AND nutrition

Use OR to search for synonyms or like words. 

Ex: "fast food" AND nutrition OR health

Use NOT to omit some results from a search.

Ex: NOT reviews

Use truncation symbols (usually ? or *) in library catalog, databases, and online to capture all forms of words

  • Ex: forest* will retrieve forest, forests, forester, forested, foresting

Keep searches simple using basic search words and phrases rather than natural language and sentences.

  • Ex: search nutrition AND "fast food" instead of what is the nutritional value of fast food? 

Use a variety of search terms and look for the terminology of the field and key concepts as you go. Keep track of the new words you find! 

Try google advanced search (you can google for it!) to find search tips and tools. 

Video: Searching Databases with Keywords

Source: "Searching Databases with Keywords" by lehmanlibrary , is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

An overview of how to use keywords that capture your research focus effectively in academic databases