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Library Search: Identifying search terms

Define your topic

To get started with your search, you need to have a clear understanding of what you are being asked to research, write about, or answer. 

Consider the following:

What is the focus of the question?

What is your understanding of this topic?

Synonyms/Spelling variation

Consider similar terms or phrases as well as the keywords in your research question, like the examples below. It's important to search a variety of keywords, as not every author will use the exact same terms that you have chosen to write about a topic. It can be helpful to have a key paper or even a thesaurus to hand to identify synonyms.

Spelling Variations

Think also about differences in spellings and terminology, and incorporate alternatives into your search strategy.

For example: 

behaviour (English UK spelling)

behavior (English US spelling)

Identify search terms

Next, break down your topic or question by keywords. 

These words will form the basis of your search. 


Research topic:

"Discuss the prevalence of cheating in exams at University".

The key terms or words are: cheatingexams, and university.

Connect your keywords

The next step is to connect the keywords you have identified together in the search database. 

You can combine multiple search words using search connectors, sometimes called Boolean operators. Boolean operators include: AND, OR, NOT.

Combining your search words using connectors can improve the relevancy of your results, because connectors command the search engine or database you are using to search your keywords in a more specific and filtered way.

Click on the Boolean searching tab above to learn more about how to use connectors.