You will save time and improve your results if you plan the stages of the information search beforehand. One way of doing this is by simply writing down your thoughts on paper. Common questions are:
- What is my research subject and how is it connected to 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 the subject?
The subject determines which search terms and information sources to use.
Search terms are crucial for successful information searching. You can use your prior knowledge on the subject to come up with search terms, but also reference books, theoretical literature, specialized dictionaries, and controlled vocabularies in the databases (thesauri) can be useful.
When choosing search terms, consider synonyms and broader/narrower terms, words and abbreviations. Try making a mind map with terms on the subject that come to mind.
By combining search terms, it is easy to broaden or limit the search, thus giving you an idea of previous research in the subject.
Materials in databases are described with subject terms (keywords) taken from controlled vocabularies. In these controlled vocabularies a certain term is used to describe a singular phenomenon. In databases a controlled vocabulary can be found with the name Thesaurus, Subject Headings or Subject Terms.
Subject terms can - and should - be used as search terms, because using the same language as the databases gives you more accurate search results. Controlled vocabularies also include relations between terms by listing broader, narrower, and related concepts which can help you come up with new search terms.
Note that you can also find useful search terms in the thesauri (index term lists) of the databases!