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Searching Information: Subject and search terms

The information search process: subject and search term

Getting help with the search terms

Note that you can also find useful search terms in the thesauri (index term lists) of the databases!

Defining the subject and the information need

Getting started is the most difficult stage in the information search process. You might feel confused about the process and the subject of research. Do not panic; as the process goes on, things will get better. If the project feels unmanageable, divide it into smaller parts.

You will save time and improve your results if you plan the stages in the information search process beforehand. One way of doing this is by simply writing down your thoughts on paper. Common questions are:

What is my research subject and which are the connections with other subjects? What kind of information do I need; singular facts or a broad overview of the research within the area? What prior knowledge do I have? What is my angle? Which are the essential terms within this area? How current does the information need to be? In which languages?

The subject determines which search terms and information sources to use.

Finding search terms

One of the most important stages of the information search process is finding search terms, since they are crucial for a successful search.

When choosing search terms, use your prior knowledge of the scientific field, reference books, theoretical literature, specialized dictionaries, and controlled vocabularies in the databases (thesauri).

When choosing search terms, consider synonyms and broader/narrower terms, words and abbreviations. Try making a mind map and write down all words in the field that come to mind.

By combining search terms, broadening or limiting, the search will get easier, which will enable you to get a picture of previous research in the field.