Before you search for sources, brainstorm words and phrases that describe your topic. Remember to include synonyms (example: teenagers, adolescents, juveniles). Identify the academic disciplines that are associated with your topic (e.g. gun control is associated with criminal justice, legal studies, social science etc…) Using words that describe academic disciplines as search terms is an effective strategy to start your research.
Phrase Searching & Subject Terms
If you find phrases which are common to your topic (example: “global warming” or “No Child Left Behind”), surround the keywords in “quotation marks” to search for that exact phrase. This technique works in most library databases and Internet search engines.
The Library of Congress uses standardized terms to describe all subject areas. Knowing these terms and how the categories work will help take the guesswork out of searching. For example, if you search for the phrase death penalty, you will find sources that are in the subject area of capital punishment, the standard term for sources about that topic.
Using “capital punishment,” rather than “death penalty,” as a search term may produce more relevant results. For more information about finding the right words to use to search, see Keywords & Search Strategies.