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.
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.
Keywords (also called search terms) are words that describe your research topic. Keywords are chosen by you. Keyword searching is how you search in Google and Bing. You think of important words or phrases, type them into a search box, and get results.
Subjects (also called controlled vocabulary) are words that an article has been tagged with because the article is mostly about those subjects. Subjects are a quick way to find the most relevant articles on a topic, but you have to be careful because the only place the database searches for those words is in that Subject field. If you don't have the right words to search with, you'll get no results. You find Subjects listed in articles that are relevant to your topic, type them into a search box, change the "field to search" to Subject, and get results.
|off-the-top-of-your-head words describing your topic||"controlled vocabulary" words describing the content of each database item|
|more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways||less flexible to search by - you need to know the exact pre-determined subject term|
|databases and search engines look for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together||databases look for subjects only in the subject heading field, where the most relevant words appear|
|may yield many irrelevant results||results usually very relevant to the topic|
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