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Information Literacy: 02. Generate Search Terms

Strategies used to incorporate research skills for the College of Arts and Sciences 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)

Helpful Hints

  • You may find it helpful to keep a written list of search terms, which you can add to as you conduct research. This helps you keep track of what terms you have already checked, what worked or didn't work, and help visualize your search history.  
  • Pay special attention to titles, abstracts, and headings used in the results you find helpful.
  • The more you search and learn about your topic, the easier it will be to generate search terms.

Overview of the Search Process

Whether you are searching the Internet or a database, generating effective search terms can save time, yield relevant results, and provide an opportunity to explore various perspectives on a specific topic. Generating search terms is a dynamic and iterative process. As you search, you may find it necessary to modify or add new search terms to your list.

Developing Search Terms

1. Examine your research question and identify the words that represent the main ideas. These "main idea" words can be your first search terms.

Research Question: “How do environmental protests impact deforestation?”

2. Generate synonyms, related ideas, and alternative forms for each main idea word.


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


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


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