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Introduction to Literary Studies (Li1V18001/TL2V18001): Search terms

Search terms: the crux

The search terms you use are crucial to good search results. We strongly advise you to come up with as many search terms as possible. In hindsight inadequate search results are often caused by incorrect, too general, too specific or too few 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)

Search techniques

The way you search is a combination of a search method, the accompanying search techniques and the structure of your search.

  • Boolean search: combining and excluding with AND, OR, NOT, NEAR
  • Exact phrase: search by an exact combination of words, often by using double quotes e.g. "climate change"
  • Truncation: searching by the root that a group of words has in common, often by using an asterisk e.g. migrat* for migration, migrated, migratory etc. (not supported by Google)
  • Masking tell the search engine that one or more characters you are not sure about are not neccesary for your search
  • Using keywords generated by the authors or by the makers of a search engine
  • Using thesauruses: (subject related) overviews showing the relation between professional terms
  • Field specific search: indicate that your terms must occur in a particular part of the publication (title, summary, name of the author). Use 'advanced search' option.
  • ‚ÄčUsing filters and 'limits': limit your set of results by excluding publications having certain features (for instance filter on language or publication year)