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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Training Public International Law: 2. Search terms

Training Public International Law

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)


Mindmapping is a nice technique  that can help you specify your research question. This video explains how.

Specific searchterms for Public International Law Sources

Specific search terms for Public International Law Sources could be:

  • Document symbol (number of a resolution, treaty etc.; for example: GA Res. 41/133, 4 December 1986)
  • Title/title words of a regulation (for example: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties)
  • Official citation (for example: 155 UNTS 331)
  • Are you looking for literature on sources, search on number (document symbol) or citation as well

Specific searchterms for case law on Public International Law

Specific search terms for case law could be:

  • subject. A subject can be specified:  
    •  by the number of the legislation
    •  in words (think of word varieties, synonyms, broader/narrower terms, keep in mind the context of your subject within your discipline, abbreviations and other languages, see the explanation below)
  • name of the case or of the parties involved (for example: Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile))
  • Citation, for example: [1949] ICJ Rep 4
  • If you are looking for literature on case law, also try the name of the case or the citation