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Databases: Finding Journal Articles: Search Terms

This guide will help you search databases and journals to find relevant articles in any field.

What are search terms?

Search terms are the keywords you search in a database, search engine, or online catalog to find items on a topic. Learning to use keywords well will help make the process of searching for items easier.

Step 1: Think of Keywords

It's helpful to create a list of keywords before you start searching. Think about your research topic and highlight the important words. Often these are nouns.

For example, if your research question is... Should depressed teenagers participate in more extracurricular activities to help treat their depression? Your keywords might be:

  • depressed
  • teenagers
  • extracurricular activities

Write these down on a piece of paper. Now, look at your keywords and think of related terms or synonyms. Related terms for the above words would be: 

  • Depressed: depression
  • Teenagers: teens, adolescents, high schoolers
  • Extracurricular activities: after school activities, sports

Step 2: Start searching!

Try different combinations of 2-3 of your keywords in a search.

  • depressed teenagers "extracurricular activities"
  • depression adolescents sports

Most of the time you'll have to try several different combinations to find the articles or books you want. There is no perfect search -- it's always experimentation. While you're searching, look for new keywords to search in the results you get. Go back and try them! 

Things to Remember

  • If you have too many search terms, you may not get many, or any results.
  • If you have too few search terms, you may get too few, and many irrelevant, results.
  • Think of related terms for your keywords. For example, "adolescents" for "teenagers." Then add these to your search using the word "OR." This is easiest to do on the Advanced Search page when each keyword from your research statement has its own search box.
    • Example Advanced Search
      • Search Box 1: depressed OR depression
      • Search Box 2: teens OR teenagers OR adolescents OR "high schoolers"
      • Search Box 3: "extracurricular activities" OR "after school activities" OR sports

Generating Search Terms Tutorial