Answered By: Cindi Nichols
Last Updated: Apr 25, 2018     Views: 144

First, identify your main concepts (example terms below in red).

Then, for each term, brainstorm  different forms of the word, synonyms, related terms, as well as narrower and broader terms. (See below.)   Brainstorming for keywords is a process that will help increase your chances of finding information on your topic. 

College Students         United States           Saving money
Young adults                         U.S.                             Savings
Millennials                            America                      Budgeting
Teenagers                                                                    Investing
Generation Y                                                               Personal Savings
                                                                                          Savings Accounts

Use only single words, or 2 or 3-word phrases when searching library databases.  Do NOT use sentences or questions! Database searching is different from Google searching.

Single words do NOT need quotation marks around them; sometimes it can be helpful to place quotation marks around 2 or 3-word phrases to keep them searched as a unique phrase that has meaning, instead of as individual words. 

Examples:    ozone


                    “global warming"

                    “climate change”

Try a broad search for your topic in one of our databases (OmniFile is a good multidisciplinary database), to see how scholarly articles describe it.  For example, if you are interested in learning environments and their impact on academic performance, type "learning environments" in the search box and click "search". 

Browse the articles in your search results.  When you see one that particularly interests you, or is a very close match for your specific topic, take a closer look at it.  Click the article's title to view its full/detailed record, which will show you subject terms, and author-supplied keywords -- great sources for new search terms:

Substitute SYNONYMS to see what results you get --  authors may choose different ways to describe a topic. 

              Examples:        “right to die” OR “assisted suicide” OR euthanasia

                                       required OR mandatory OR compulsory

Combine keywords

  • Combine terms with AND to narrow your focus. To find info about fur on dogs, search: fur AND dogs.
  • Combine terms with OR to expand your focus. To find info about fur on either dogs or cats, search: fur AND (dogs OR cats).
  • Use multiple search boxes:

                          if you want to know:

                          What is the effect on a dog's fur of eating fish 

                          You could use the database search boxes to enter:





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