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Advanced Literature Search Guide for Nursing and Health Sciences: STEP 3: Develop search terms

Step 3: Develop search terms

This page will discuss the importance of developing your search terms, along with resources to help you with this step. 

How to develop your search terms

The key to successful searching is choosing the right search terms an it is worth taking time to get these right.

Make sure you look at your preliminary search results (for example from your background search in step 1) for additional words or phrases that you can include in your search. 

Use synonyms (similar words), antonyms (opposite words), related words, acronyms, abbreviations and different terminology to improve your search. 

Take some time to look at your question and search terms, and think of as many of these alternatives as possible to add into your search strings. Using a thesaurus will help. 

Keep your search clean and lean - avoid using vague words and phrases like the following  as these are not key concepts and are rarely helpful in searching.

  • “The role of”
  • "The impact on”
  • "The effectiveness of..."
  • "The affect on"

You should be prepared to adapt and refine your search as you go as it is unlikely your first results will be perfect.

Useful resources

Below are a few extra resources with more detail on selecting your search terms. 

More about selecting search terms

Subject headings searching

Try using a thesaurus to help you. Below are links to our own Health Thesaurus and a more general thesaurus. 

All images included in this guide are available from Upsplash through Creative Commons licensing CC-BY-2.0