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Coming up with the right search terms and combining them in the right way are keys to finding the material you are seeking. How do you determine good search terms for the concepts that are new to you? Or get ideas for different aspects of a topic to study? Here are a few places to get ideas for search terms and some tips for combining them.
ABI/INFORM lists its thesaurus under Browse Topics. Business Source Elite provides a thesaurus link on its home page. These two thesauri are created by different companies and don't have exactly the same entries.
Let's say you are doing a paper on consumer behavior and convenience stores. Perhaps you'd like to focus on some specific aspect of consumer behavior. Looking up consumer behavior in the ABI/INFORM thesaurus gets the entry below. The narrower and related terms may help you to focus on a certain aspect of the topic; in this case, maybe you would decide to focus on "impulse buying," a narrower term than consumer behavior. Looking up convenience stores in the thesaurus leads to an entry that points out other terms to consider such as supermarkets and grocery stores.
Tips for combining search terms. Let's say you decide to decide to focus on this topic: affecting impulse buying of snack foods at convenience stores or other food stores:
"impulse buying" AND
"snack food*" OR "potato chips" AND
"convenience store*" OR supermarket*
Many databases require phrases be put in double quotation marks. Many databases use the asterisk as a "truncation" or "wild card" symbol; so, supermarket* would retrieve supermarkets as well as supermarket.
Synonyms or related terms are combined using the OR (or AT LEAST ONE) connector in many databases. This is to say that search results must have the terms snack foods or potato chips or both. The different concepts of the search are combined using the AND (or ALL) connector. This sample search says that results must include impulse buying AND either snack foods or potato chips AND either convenience stores or supermarkets.
Searches can be broadened by dropping one of the sets of terms or narrowed by adding a set of terms. They also can be broadened or narrowed by varying what is searched. For example, in many databases you can require that search terms be in article titles; this will narrow the search and get fewer results. On the other hand, in many databases you can broaden the search by looking for the search terms anywhere in the text of articles in the database.
Last updated: August 23, 2010