Finding the right search terms

Remember to make use of any synonyms or related terms which you may find to expand your list of keywords.

Related terms represent ideas associated with the subject you are looking for, but are not exact synonyms. Most often the synonyms and related terms you will need to identify will be additional terms with roughly the same meaning, for example:


Example Alternative spelling should also be considered, as many databases use the American form.

In general, it is better not to use general dictionaries to identify search terms. But there are specialist encyclopaedias and dictionaries for many subjects.

You can also think of broader terms which will help you find more general information, such as the title of a book which might include information about your specific subject. Think of narrower terms to help you find more specific information in, for example, a journal.

Each individual item in a bibliographic database is described using controlled vocabulary. Controlled vocabulary (subject headings and thesauri) simplifies the search process because a select list of words and phrases are used in place of many synonyms. This ensures consistency in classification and in search results. Librarians and savvy searchers use recognised lists of subject headings and tools such as database thesauri to help them choose keywords and perform better searches. In some databases, the thesaurus can be consulted on-line. Thesauri can be a great help, even if you think you know enough alternative terms to complete your search. They will tell you if you are right and suggest alternatives.


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