PART II: Using Search Tools to Find Articles - p. 2 of 7


Finding Keywords


Some students think searching is a one-shot deal--you put the "right" words into the database and get the "right" results. This is not true! Searching is a back and forth process. You try one search and get some results. Then you try another search and get different results. And you do it again and again until you learn enough about your topic and have enough sources for your assignment. Up to now, though, we've only talked about searching with the "most important concepts". So what do you do to get different results?


It is helpful to think of synonyms or words that are related to your most important concepts. Articles may use all kinds of terminology to describe the same idea, but the database will only look for the exact words you specify. If you try different terms, you may get some different results.


It helps to make a list of your search terms before you start searching so you stay organized. For instance:


Topic: Children suffering from dyslexia are not receiving the best available treatment.


Important concept #1: Dyslexia

Synonyms or related words: ?


Important concept #2: Children

Synonyms or related words: child, youth, young people, kids, adolescents


Important concept #3: Treatment

Synonyms or related words: therapy, analysis, screening, medication, drugs


Notice we left out words like "best" and "suffer". Those words are not very specific and don't often work very well in searching. Usually the best search terms are nouns.


Obviously, some keywords like "dyslexia" are very specific and may not have synonyms, but you'll find that searching synonyms for certain words leads to different sets of results. You may find that terms that worked well in one database do not work well in another, or you may find that some terms do not seem to work anywhere. Pay attention to the kind of results you get from your search. Do the articles look helpful? If not, why? Often you will be able to determine that one or two terms are skewing your results. If so, take that term out and try another. You will need to be creative and think broadly about the issues involved in your topic.


Keep fine-tuning your searches and using the terminology you identified to get better results. For instance, you may get different but equally helpful results from searching 1) dyslexia 2) youth 3) screening VERSUS 1) dyslexia 2) children 3) treatment VERSUS 1) dyslexia 2) children 2) analysis. The only way to know what terms will work is to try!


Let's see what the results look like for these searches, using one of the most popular databases, Academic Search Premier. Right click on that link and select to open it in a new window so you can come back to this page easily. (If you are off campus, you'll need to authenticate with your ID--23311+your nine digit number.) Once into the database, try two sample searches, putting one word in each search box on the screen.


First try:





Then hit the back button to go to the main search screen and enter:





Take a look at how the results differ. Notice how just changing that one word gives you different articles. While some of them might be repeated in each search, there are definitely some unique articles in each set of results. If you didn't try both searches, you would have never found those articles!


It is also a good idea to jot down new terms that you come across while searching. Often article writers use professional jargon or phrases you have not heard before. Keeping track of those new terms may help you expand your search. For instance, when you did the sample dyslexia searches described above, you may have come across the term "reading disability". That would be another term you could add to your list of related words for dyslexia.


If you’re not sure what synonyms to try, you can also look for synonyms in a thesaurus such as this one:





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