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Finding Information: Generating Keywords and Alternative Terms

Introduction to Generating Keywords and Alternative Terms

When it comes to searching, it's important to remember that input determines output.

Regardless of the search platform being used, be it Google or the library catalogue, the search engine will employ the keywords you enter to sift through millions of possible matches. If your search terms are too generic, imprecise, or off-topic, then the results retrieved will be equally broad. In other words, the more specific and targeted your search terms, the more precise and relevant your search results will be.

Initially, your research topic or question is likely to provide you with a set of keywords or concepts that can be used for your search. These keywords or concepts can then be utilized to identify additional alternative terms, which can assist in expanding and diversifying your search results.

Generating Keywords and Alternative Terms

Selecting Keywords

Choosing appropriate keywords from the assignment brief can significantly enhance the accuracy and relevance of your search results.

It's important to carefully read the assignment brief and identify the key concepts or themes. These key concepts can then be used to generate a list of keywords that can be employed during the search process.

Here are our top tips for selecting appropriate keywords:

  1. Avoid using unnecessary words and phrases
  2. Condense your concepts; avoid repeating yourself
  3. Use neutral language to return more balanced search results
  4. Beware of typos and misspellings
  5. Think about key concepts and themes not articulated in the question

Still not sure where to start? Click here to watch Winona State University's short guide to selecting and using keywords appropriately [4:13 minutes]. 

Why not try putting these suggestions into practice? Select the most appropriate keywords from the example question below.

Identifying Alternative Terms

Identifying alternative search terms is important as it allows for more comprehensive and diverse search results. Using only the keywords from a research question can result in a limited set of results that may not fully capture the breadth of available literature.

By identifying alternative search terms, you can expand your search to encompass related concepts, synonyms, and related phrases that may not have been included in the original research question. This can help to ensure a more thorough examination of the relevant literature, leading to a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the research topic.

You should try to think of several alternative terms for each of the core concepts in your question. Different types of alternative terms support different functions, for example:

  • Using synonyms, acronyms, and alternative spellings can diversify and expand your search results.
  • Using broader terms can increase your search results.
  • Using narrower terms can limit your search results.
  • Using antonyms can balance your search results.

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