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). Using words that describe academic disciplines as search terms can be one way to improve your search results.
|Words to Find Books||Words to Find Articles|
|climate change||“ice shelf” and “sea levels” and climate|
|early childhood education||inclusion and autism and preschool|
|respiratory diseases||chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and therapy|
|gun control||“concealed carry” and laws and “United States”|
For example, if you search for the phrase “death penalty” in from the library homepage, 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.
If you aren’t finding sources on your topic, try stringing together a series of words and phrases that are related. Web tools like Google automatically add the word AND between your terms. Be aware that not all library databases add the word AND to your search terms. In a basic search, it’s always a good idea to use one or two narrow terms and one very broad term connected by the word AND to improve your search results (e.g. Thor and death and mythology). [The capitalization of AND isn’t necessary, it’s done here for emphasis.]
If you want to use a combination of terms that are similar or use synonyms in your search, try using OR in between the related terms. For example, you could use the word OR between adolescents or juveniles or teenagers to make sure you find sources that use any of those words.
An Advanced Search makes it easier to connect concepts and gives you Boolean search options to choose from. In the following search, we’re using a phrase in quotes and indicating that it is a standardized subject term; we’re also using synonyms for adolescent and specifying a geographic location as well.
If you want to search throughout the text of articles, you can also select All Text from an advanced search.