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Information Literacy: 02. Generate Search Terms

Strategies used to incorporate research skills for the College of Liberal Arts and the Graduate School of Management.

Generate Search Term Video

Generating Search Terms
This tutorial will help students generate effective search terms for internet or database searching.

CLIP video, length 4:54 minutes)

Techniques for Generating Search Terms

Whether you're searching the free web or a database, thinking about search terms to search for your topic can save you time, find better results, and ultimately help you become a more efficienct researcher.  Generating search terms is a dynamic process; you continue to add to your list of search words and phrases as you research.  

Thinking about search terms can help you to explore different perspectives of your topic. It can help you to find more relevant results, and it can make your projects more interesting and engaging for both you and your readers.



Define topic --> Brainstorm search terms --> Perform search --> Browse results-record new search terms --> redefine topic…

Notice that the process is dynamic and ongoing. As you search, you may add to your search terms list, and this may help you to develop or further define your topic.  You may find it helpful to keep a written list of search terms, which you can add to as you go along. This helps you keep track of what terms you have already checked, what worked or didn't work, and help visualize your search history.  



The first step of brainstorming search terms is to look at your topic sentence and pick out the words that represent the main ideas.

These "main idea" words can be your first search terms. Use these words to brainstorm synonyms and other search terms to add to your list.

“Do environmental protests affect deforestation?”

“environmental,” “protests” and “deforestation” are indicated as main idea words.


For example, from our topic sentence “Do environmental protests affect deforestation?” we might consider alternative forms and spellings of the main themes of our research topic:  “environment,” “environments,” “environmental,” “environmentalists”

Consider the time period that you're studying and how it might impact your terms. “early environmentalists = conservationists”

Think about how different people in different positions might represent your topic and terms. “lumberjack: logging; environmentalist: deforestation; scientist: forest management”

It can also be helpful to think about ideas and subtopics related to your main idea terms. “healthy forest initiative; salvage logging; fire fighting”



Let's take another look at our topic sentence example. “Do environmental protests affect deforestation?”

orms: environment, environmentalists, environments
Synonyms: ecological, green, conservation
Related ideas: watersheds, wildlife

Forms: protest, protesters, protesting 
ynonyms: activism, demonstrations, direct action
Related ideas: legislation, Greenpeace, eco-terrorism

Forms: deforesting, deforested, deforest
Synonyms: logging, clear-cutting, forest management
Related ideas: forest fires, old-growth, bio diversity



You might find that resources provided by your library can be really helpful, and you can access many of these resources online through your library's website. 

Don't forget that our librarians are excellent resources!