Now that you have selected a topic and a database that will be useful to your search, the next step is to determine KEY TERMS that will be used to conduct your search within a database. Unlike Google and other search engines that can be searched using full statements, databases use key terms to search their vast resources. Key terms are search words that describe your topic. Consider the following example:
If your topic was: "How does alcohol consumption affect rates of depression in teenagers," the key terms may be:
Searching using these key terms will hopefully return helpful results. However, it is important to consider alternate key terms for your search that may fit your subject better and yield additional or more specific results:
Once you have your key terms, you are ready to use the database.
While searching using these key terms will hopefully return helpful results, it is important to consider alternate key terms for your search that may fit your subject better. For example, if your search is about heart attacks portrayed in television, using "heart attack" will likely be the best term to use. However, if your search is about heart attacks in diabetic patients, "myocardial infarction" may be better suited.
For this search about alcohol consumption and depression in teenagers, the following key terms may yield additional or more specific results:
A helpful tool to help you find these terms is Credo Reference, which has a subject term map when you search a topic. See below:
This tool can be helpful when you are first starting to explore the most common subject terms relating to a larger topic. It can be a great way to find other subjects to research and help you narrow your topic.
Gale databases, linked here, have a helpful feature on their front page, Topic Finder. This tool takes a topic that you search and creates a visualization of subject terms that are commonly used in articles about that topic. You can find this button when you scroll down their home page:
Utilizing tools like the Thesaurus or Mind Mup can assist you in discovering these key words. By mapping out ideas, or using the Thesaurus to come up with synonyms, usually both together, we can discover new key words that can help us to discover better resources in databases.
See below as an example of a Mind Map to help brainstorm key words:
While this is not a necessary step, this can be very helpful to organize ideas, find new key words, and also organize sources as you find them. You can copy and paste citations or titles of articles relating to topics here and later on utilize this as an outline for your research project.
While using one key term can yield helpful results, utilizing more than one key term by using Boolean operators in between can narrow your search from general results to more relevant results. The recommended place to start is using the word AND within your search.
To search using AND, simply type AND between your KEY TERMS.
Alcohol consumption AND depression
Alcohol consumption AND depression AND teenagers
While just using alcohol consumption may yield thousands of results on any subject, using AND and another key term such as depression or teenagers will narrow your search to also including those terms in your results.
To help you visualize the power of AND, please see the example below:
Not using AND:
Using AND with two key terms:
Using AND with three key terms:
Using OR between KEY TERMS can broaden your search from a small number of results to a larger number of results. A search using OR between key terms will return results that include any of the KEY TERMS.
To search using OR simply type OR between your KEY TERMS.
See the example below:
A search for TEENAGERS AND ALCOHOL USE returned 3,716 results
A search for ADOLESCENTS AND ALCOHOL USE returned 5,478 results
A search for (TEENAGERS OR ADOLESCENT) AND ALCOHOL USE returned 5,988 results. This search will include all results which deal either with teenagers or adolescents and alcohol use.