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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Training Economics: 2. Search terms

Generating search terms

 Thinking up the right search terms is one of the major parts of your search strategy.

Go looking for corresponding terms for each part of your search question. Don't forget:

  • ​synonyms (house/dwelling)
  • broader terms (university / higher education)
  • narrower terms (children/ toddlers)
  • related terms (training / coaching)
  • antonyms (terms with opposite meanings, such as parent/child or sick/healthy
  • persons and organisations of importance to your subject
  • terms indicating space and time (for instance eras,centuries, place names, countries)
  • avoid bias in your search terms, it might colour the outcome of your search 

And also think of the different forms:

  • singular/plural
  • verb conjugations
  • nouns/adjectives
  • different spelling (labor / labour)
  • abbreviations
  • translations into languages which are relevant to your subject and discipline

Correct your search terms along the way. If you do so from the very start, you will soon see which (new) terms produce the right results, and which terms don't. Repeat this method als long as it takes.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Use resources:

  •  words from an exploratory search from, for instance, Wikipedia 
  •  words from the search results of search engines
  • words from earlier found sources, for instance keywords given by the author (author keywords)
  • dictionaries
  • thesauri (overviews of selected words or concepts and their mutual relations within a particular field of interest or discipline, often included in large search engines)

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.