The first step to brainstorming search terms is having an initial topic or thesis statement to work with. Not there yet? Spend five minutes choosing a focused topic, then come back here.
Step 1. Take a piece of paper or open up a document and write down your topic or thesis statement.
Step 2. Circle or highlight the most important individual ideas that make up your topic.
Words you don't need to search for and why:
Step 3. Think about other words or phrases that have similar meanings to each idea – basically, brainstorm synonyms. Write down at least one similar or related term for each idea.
If you’re having a tough time thinking of terms, do a basic search on the main idea. (In this example, COVID vaccine misinformation might be the main idea.) Skim through an article or webpage for additional or alternate terms – sometimes seeing how an author writes about a topic helps.
Step 4. Look for terms that are phrases, meaning more than one word. Place quotation marks around these phrases.
What does this do?
These quotation marks will force the database or search engine to search for your phrase exactly as you have it written, rather than separating and searching for each word individually. Remember, you do not need to add quotation marks around single words.
Boolean operators are words that we use to link two or more keywords while searching. Linking your keywords with the words AND, OR, and NOT help to expand or narrow the results you get while searching.
Image credit: Slippery Rock University
Now you have a list of important words and phrases. These are your search terms - what the library catalog or database will use to find you awesome articles, books, and more.
But beware! Do not dump all of these words into a search box. Use the library catalog or database’s Advanced Search tools to organize your ideas and build a strategic search. For help with this, contact a CCC Librarian or try out our Search String Builder (linked below).
Want some more practice brainstorming search terms?
Use the sample topics below and 1) circle or highlight the most important individual ideas that make up the topic and 2) brainstorm search terms for each idea.
Clackamas Community College Library - 19600 Molalla Avenue, Oregon City, Oregon 97045
Reference: 503-594-6042 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Circulation: 503-594-6323
Library Hours | Moodle | myClackamas | FAQ
Except where otherwise noted, content in these research guides is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Link broken? Information need updating? Have website feedback? Please email email@example.com