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PSYC 360: Group Dynamics: Search Tips

Using Subject Terms, Descriptors, and Keywords

Good researchers typically want to review a broad range of the existing scholarship on their topics. The process of examining relevant, previously-published materials is often referred to as conducting a "Review of the Literature" and many scholarly articles even feature a section called "Literature Review."

When you've found one article directly relevant to your research, the library's search engine makes it easier to find more like it. When you click on the title of an article that appears in your search results, you'll typically see a list of data about that article including publication information, an abstract, and often, a list of keywords, subjects, subject terms, or "descriptors" that can be used to begin a new, more focused search.

Keywords, Subject Terms, and Descriptors

The terms used may vary, but most scholarly journal articles you find through the library's search engine will include a list of terms like those depicted above.

Selecting Keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

1.  Express your topic in a topic sentence or research question: “What is the effect of television violence on children?”

2.  Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence:  “What is the effect of television violence on children?” = Television, Violence, Children. Leave out the small, common words that would be found in hundreds of irrelevant articles, e.g. What, Is, The, Effect, Of, On. Choose keywords that represent the main ideas of your topic.

3.  Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:

  • Television – media, TV
  • Violence – aggression, hostility
  • Children – toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls

Combining Search Terms

You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are mathematics AND curriculum:

  • AND – Narrows and focuses the search results. The search mathematics AND curriculum will bring only results where both the terms mathematics and curriculum are present.  
  • OR – Broadens the search results. Using OR will bring results where the term mathematics is present, or results where curriculum is present, or results where both terms are present.  OR is useful if you have more than one way to refer to a concept -- Example: elementary OR primary.
  • NOT – Excludes anything where the term after the NOT is present -- Example: school NOT college

Advanced Keyword Searching