Western Libraries

Developing Search Terms

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Script of Video:

Before you start searching, it’s useful to brainstorm ideas.  Brainstorming can help you come up with additional words to use when searching and it can help you pinpoint your research topic.  Begin by writing out your general topic.   Then state your more specific topic.  Asking yourself the questions ‘Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?’ can help you pinpoint your topic.  Then divide your topic into key concepts.  After you’ve narrowed your topic down, write it out in the form of  a 'Research Question.' At this point, you’ll want to come up with additional words such as synonyms, alternate spellings, similar terms, or related terms to use in your search.  But remember if you use too many words or phrases your topic may be too broad.  And if you use too few, your topic may be too narrow.  As a rough guideline, 2 to 4 words or phrases per concept is not too many... not too few... but just right. Some people find that using a ‘concept map’ can be helpful.  When you’re done, group related ideas together, perhaps in a chart or a table, or in groups of words.  Do whatever works best for you.  You’re going to use these words and phrases when it comes time to search for books, articles and more. Writing them down takes a few extra minutes, but it can help you keep track of things. Keeping track of your search terms can save you time in the long run, especially when you need to ask for help from library staff. But if you do need assistance please visit a Library Research Help desk.