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Information literacy ~Astronomy - Chemistry - Mathematics - Physics: Defining search terms

How to define search terms

You have found more information now and can start brainstorming about your topic. Write down all the search terms you have come across during the orientation phase. Also try to think of search terms using the knowledge you already have about the subject. (See the chapter Orientation on your topic.)

  • Use the terms you have found in sources such as handbooks and reference works and do some more searching using these terms.
  • Use synonyms for the search terms you have found. Where possible, use different spellings of the search terms and use translations in case you want to use literature in other languages.
  • Try using the terms in SmartCat or another source, and look at the full record of a title (title, abstract, subject headings or keywords) to find new ideas for search terms.

TIP: Look in the Technology LibGuide for more relevant sources. 

In some databases you can use a thesaurus to look for new search terms. In a thesaurus you will often find other terms (broader as well as more specific) that relate to the term you are looking for.

For more information on this, see the chapter ‘Searching and finding’.

Limiting/broadening the scope of your topic

If your search produces too many results, you need to make your search terms more specific. You can also add extra search terms. But make sure you do not exclude an important aspect of your subject!

If your search produces too few results, you need to broaden your search terms.

For more information on what to do if your search produces too many or too few results see the chapter ‘Search techniques and search tips’.

Defining search terms: example

Example: Your topic is:  
Make a  performance game to simulate a decision support system for maintenance on offshore wind turbines

Initial search terms are : "performance game" ; "decision support"  combined with: "offshore" and "maintenance"

When you get too many results you could narrow this down with terms: "wind turbines" or "wind energy"

When you get too few results you can use broader terms like "wind*", "energy", "sea", "coastal", "management game" ,"asset management"