Answered By: Erin Mooney
Last Updated: Jan 19, 2016     Views: 230

When searching in library research databases, it is important to search using the essential key concepts that make up your topic because the more terms that you use in your search, the fewer results you will get.

A search like

impact of gender on people's salary expectations

will get you far fewer results than if you searched for 

gender AND salary AND expectations

It is also valuable to think of all of the terms that mean the same thing as your key concepts. Just because you think of the word salary does not mean that all of the authors are using that word. They might use terms like wages, pay, income, or earnings. Searching for all of those terms together with OR between them (for example: salary OR pay OR wages OR income OR earnings) tells the search engine to find at least one of these terms in your search results. It allows you to find all of the possible works on your topic at once without knowing exactly which term each author will use.

How can you brainstorm the key concepts, keywords, and synonyms for your topic? Reference resources (such as AccessScience Encyclopedia of Science and TechnologyOxford Reference Online, Gale Virtual Reference, Credo Reference Unlimited) or even Wikipedia can provide you with basic information about your topic, including keywords, people's names, or place names you may not have thought of before. If you are focusing on a particular academic discipline (e.g. Psychology, Education, Business), take time to look at subject-specific encyclopedias and reference sources in your field to find basic information on your topic and to discover new keywords. You can find these resources listed on the library research guides for subjects, or search discoverE for "your subject/topic" AND encyclopedia.

Once you have your keywords for searching, try them in various combinations in the library's research databases. For more information on search techniques, visit Tips for Searching.


Thanks go to the Portland State University Library for sharing their Library DIY idea with us!

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