Research is not always a linear process and figuring out the best keywords often involves starting out with a few words then adapting, shifting, and exploring. Sometimes one specific word will be enough. Other times, you'll need several different words to describe a concept AND you'll need to connect that concept to a second (and/or third) concept.
Boolean operators (AND, NOT, OR) connect words and concepts.
Other search tricks:
Use the terms the database uses to describe what each article is about as search terms. Searching using controlled vocabularies is a great way to get at everything on a topic in a database.
Search terms are extracted from your research question (such as the terms that may up your PICO) and can be entered into whichever database(s) you decide to use. Databases give you the option of using keywords or subject headings.
Each database has its own set of subject headings, designed specifically for the literature from the field(s) of study the database contains. Knowing the difference between keywords and subject headings, as well as the advantages and disadvantages for both of them, can help you perform better searches.
Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines. Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.
Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.
Keyword or Subject Heading Search?
Some basic guidelines are:
Use the filters in each database to narrow your search down and eliminate irrelevant results. These helps to maximize your search process by making it more efficient.
Limiting to a specific year range and peer reviewed articles are the most commonly used filters.
Other helpful filters include by full text availability, study type, population group as well as more specific filters such as "Randomized Control Trials' and "Evidence Based Practice." Filters vary according to database. Typically, you can find filters either on the Advanced Search page, underneath the search boxes or on the left-hand side of search results. These two databases go over in greater detail how to use certain filters in individual databases: Evidence-Based Practice and Quantitative and Qualitative Research.
If you find an article that you find good for your research, extract other elements from it that may be helpful for you to find other articles.
These elements would include:
"Keyword: Look at the author-generated keywords, the database subject headings, the title, abstract and introduction for words that may be great additional/alternative search terms. You don't have to know everything about a topic before you start searching - let what you find introduce you to the language of the field.
Author(s): If they're written one article on this topic, they may have written more. Click on the author names to see what else they have in the database, or use their names (individually) as a search term elsewhere.
Journal: They may have published other articles on your topic; sometimes there's even a special issue wholly focused on a single topic. Consider browsing or searching within a specific publication. Oftentimes you'll end up searching in the journal's website."
References: Experts on this topic have gathered and evaluated these sources, make sure you look through them for potential sources for your own work."
Look at a good article's citations or references to find out more information. To do this:
Enter keywords to search the library's catalog for full text electronic articles.
Search Google Scholar:
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