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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Training Economics: 2. Search terms

Generating search terms

The right search terms are the most important conditons for an effective search.

General tips:

  1. Think 'in terms of' the article to be found. What words are likely to be used in the article you hope to find?
  2. As a result of your findings, correct your search terms a few times in the initial phase of your search


Keep in mind the different kinds of terms:

  • synonyms
  • broader terms
  • narrower terms
  • related terms
  • antonyms
  • persons or organisations related to your subject
  • translation into languages relevant for subject and discipline
  • Think, for each of these categories, of the different forms (single, plural etc.) spelling variations and possible abbreviations/acronyms)


You don't have to think of terms all by yourself. Use the tools:

  • words from an introductory article in Wikipedia for instance
  • words from search result pages in search engines 
  • keywords from previously found sources (especially the so-called 'author keywords')
  • dictionaries, for translations and for looking up the meaning of words
  • thesauruses, for finding related terms that you may not have thought of (e.g. this general thesaurus for the English language)


In the special LibGuide generating search terms UBU LibGuide zoektermen bedenken (in Dutch) you will find more information, including lists of important thesauruses by subject

What about Wikipedia?

In scholarly research, Wikipedia can be used for:

  • Initial exploration of a subject
  • Gaining ideas about search terms to be used
  • Finding out or checking facts, but please do a double-check
  • Literature references: often there are references to a small number of crucial publications
  • Source references: in the footnotes of many articles detailed source references can be found
  • As object of study: in what way is a subject written about in an influential reference work?
  • As quick translation tool, for words, but particularly for concepts for which mainstream (online) dictionaries offer no solution

Please bear in mind that the various language versions of Wikipedia may differ:  as a rule the larger versions (for instance the English version) is of a higher quality, because on average more people contribute to an article. Compare the article in the different language versions.

Another thing one can do is study the talk pages of an article. It shows the (low or high) level of discussion amongst editors. You can take that into account in your decision on how to use the information provided in the article.

Contrary to what is often thought, Wikipedia is a reference work with explicit rules, policy and control.

In the special LibGuide Wikipedia  more details, background information and examples of good Wikipedia-use.

Search terms for introductory literature

If you are searching for literature at a basic level (or introductory level) you can add search terms such as 'introduction' or 'orientation' 'overview' or 'review'. 

Preferably you would like these words to occur in a title or in an abstract. In many search engines you will find an 'advanced search' option through which you can specify your query.

Journal of Economic Literature (JEL)

The Journal of Economic Literature (JEL), first published in 1969, is designed to help economists keep abreast of the vast flow of literature. JEL issues contain commissioned, peer-reviewed survey and review articles, book reviews, an annotated bibliography of new books classified by subject matter, and an annual index of dissertations in North American universities. You can browse the JEL by issue or search all issues through the Electronic journals UU (see tab 4).

To many economic publications the subject codes of the Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) Classification System have been added. The "JEL" classification system is a standard method of classifying scholarly literature in the field of economics. Use the guide to gain insight on how JEL Codes are used to classify articles, dissertations, books, book reviews, and working papers.

You can use a JEL code as a search term and/or as a keyword  in several search engines and databases, such as Google Scholar (with UBU-link), RePEc Ideas etc.

A quick orientation on your subject

For a quick and good orientation on your subject you can consult the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics
Search by keywords or Browse by Topic. The Topics are based on the JEL classification.