Chat with a Librarian
Skip to Main Content
ask a librarian email questions

Search Strategies and Techniques

This guide will walk you through various search strategies you could use in the library databases.

Choosing Keywords

One of the biggest differences between searching in Google or searching in a library database is that library databases require you to search using keywords. Keywords are 1-2 words or short phrases that you can use when searching the library databases or in the catalog. Keywords should be related to the main concepts of your topic.

Avoid using words like "What," "Have," "Does," "Impact," or "Effect." These words are too common and will not help you narrow down your search.

Coming up with strong keywords takes practice, so do not worry if you need to try a few different keywords before you find the ones that will best help with your search!

Brainstorming Keywords

There are several ways you can brainstorm keywords for a search. 

  • Doing background research is a great way to learn more about a topic and find keywords, since you will be looking at an overview of major concepts in your topic.
  • Search names of key events, key people, etc. related to your topic.
  • Some, but not all databases, will have related search terms listed with an article. Pay attention to those, since they can be future keywords for searches! 
  • Use a Thesaurus to see if there are any synonyms for your keywords you can use for a search.
  • Create a mind map or a concept map about your topic. CREDO Reference is a database that includes mind maps on various topics to help you come up with keywords.

It is important to not get too stuck in only 1 or 2 keywords for your entire search. There might be multiple keywords that could be used to describe your topic, or some databases may use different terms to describe the same topic (we'll get to that a little later). 

Example Keywords

Research Topic: Effects of social media usage on teen body image.

Possible Keywords: social media, teenager, body image.

Research Topic: School dress codes unfairly target female students.

Possible Keywords: dress code, female students.

Research Topic: Pesticides are contaminating water supplies.

Possible Keywords: pesticides, contamination, water

Let's Practice!