This is “Choosing Search Terms”, section 7.3 from the book Writers' Handbook (v. 1.0).
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Whether you are searching research databases or conducting general online searches, the search terms and phrases you use will determine what information you find. Following some basic search term guidelines can make the process go smoothly.
When searching for articles within a database, start by using keywordsMain term relating to a topic. that relate to your topic.
Example: alternative energy
To expand your search, use synonyms or components of the initial search terms.
Synonym Example: renewable energy
Components Example: algae energy, wind energy, biofuel
Another technique you can use is to refine the presentation of your search terms using suggestions in the following table.
|Use multiple words.||Use multiple words to more narrowly define your search.||renewable energy instead of energy|
|Use quotation marks.||Place quotation marks around two or more words that you want to search for only in combination, never individually.||“renewable energy”|
|Use “AND” to connect words.||Use “AND” between words when you want to retrieve only articles that include both words.||algae AND energy|
|Use “OR” to choose one or the other.||Use “OR” to find information relating to one of two options but not both. This option works well when you have two terms that mean the same thing and you want to find articles regardless of which term has been chosen for use.||ethanol OR ethyl alcohol|
|Use “NOT” to eliminate likely options.||Use “NOT” to eliminate one category of ideas you know a search term will likely generate.||algae NOT food|
|Use “*” or “?” to include alternate word endings.||Use “*” or “?” to include a variety of word endings. This process is often called using a “wildcard.”||alternate* energy|
|Use parentheses to combine multiple searches.||Use parentheses to combine multiple related terms into one single search using the different options presented in this table.||(renewable OR algae OR biofuel OR solar) AND energy|
When you find a helpful article or Internet site, look for additional search terms and sources that you can follow up on. If you don’t have time to follow up on them all when you find them, include them in your research log for later follow-up. When possible, copy and paste terms and links into your log. When you have to retype, take great care with spelling, spacing, and most of all, attributing direct quotations to their original source.
The aforementioned tips are general ideas for keyword searching. When you are searching within a database or a certain search engineA computer program that searches on the World Wide Web., pay attention to any search tips or help screens that present methods that work well with the specific database or search engine. For example, you may have the option to narrow your search to “full text” entries only or to refine it to texts published within a certain time frame.