Key terms and alternatives

Preparing your search: key terms and alternatives

Identifying key terms and authors

Once you have chosen your resources, you need to think about keywords for your given subject. For example, if your research area was to Investigate renewable energy in the UK, you would need to break it down into separate keywords or subjects:

  • renewable
  • energy
  • United Kingdom

You may find it useful to do some preliminary reading in textbooks and encyclopaedias to help you identify keywords. Peer-reviewed journals which are specific to your research are a good place to identify key authors.

Many researchers prefer to use the PICO or SPICE systems to help define the research question in an organised way. These systems are most often used to develop a practice-based question.

Think of alternatives for your terms

Authors use many different terms (or words) which mean the same thing. Remember, the search tool you use will only search for what you tell it to look for; if there are synonyms for your search terms you must search for these too. Think about:

  • words with similar meanings: cardiology or heart; exploit or misuse
  • abbreviations or acronyms: WTO, World Trade Organization
  • alternative spellings: organization, organisation
  • singular and plural: genetic, genetics
  • words with the same stem: biotech, biotechnology, biotechnical