Now that you have done your advance planning and come up with a research question you think is manageable, you want to use your background research and your question to think of the words and phrases that best describe the information you need.
Example Research Question: What are some of the reasons why Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?
These words and phrases are sometimes called “keywords” or “search terms” and they are what you will use as you search the library and other places for information.
You can think of this stage of the research process as translation –you are taking your research question and translating it into a language that will make sense to the search tool you are using.
For example, if you are using a database to search for information, your search will be most effective if you are using language in a way the database understands. This means using subject terms and keywords that match up with ones the database uses.
This sounds pretty complicated, but it basically just takes a few simple steps.
The right keywords!
First –you want to take your research question and identify the main ideas it contains.
So, using the example question:
“What are some of the reasons why Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?”
We need to pick out the keywords that make up the main ideas in this question.
Electric cars, reasons for purchase, and Canadaare the main ideas you are concerned with for this question, so these are a good starting point for your keywords.
Next, you want to think about each of those main ideas, and try to brainstorm to come up with any other words that mean the same thing, or express the same idea.
Make a list of these words as you think of them.
Another good place to help you think of these synonyms is your background research –you may have noticed words or phrases that came up while you were looking at general information about your topic –write these down as well.
Some synonyms for “Electric car” might be: low emissions vehicle, green vehicles, and hybrid car.
For a question like this, you may also want to try and think of some of the individual reasons why someone might purchase an electric car. You can use these as search terms to capture the concept of why consumers make the purchasing decision of buying an electric car. For example – improved mileageor lower fuel consumption, convenienceof having to fuel up less often, and government incentives such as tax reductions.
The goal here is to think of as many different words and phrases to describe the main ideas in your topic as you can.
This will give you many different options to use when you start your search, and will help you to ensure that you aren’t missing out on good resources just because those resources use different words to describe the same idea or topic you are interested in.
More Specific Terms
Another way to say it
While you’re brainstorming keywords, it’s also a good idea to think about specific aspects or areas of your topic that you could also use as keywords, and which can help you focus your search.
Depending on what type of things you think of, you can make your search broader (bigger) or narrower (smaller).
For example, adding specific issues that relate to your topic, specific geographic areas, or certain time periods can all make your search narrower. If you find that when you do a search you are getting too much information and getting overwhelmed, these might be some things you can add to narrow your focus.
Adding alternative viewpoints (such as positive and negative attributes of an issue), how a topic has changed over time, or the implications of a topic can all make your search broader. If you find that your initial search does not give you enough results, adding these types of concepts as keywords can help to broaden the focus of your search.
Once you have:
Made a list of keywords using the main ideas from your research question and their synonyms.
Thought of some of the search terms and keywords you might be able to use to make your search bigger or smaller.
It’s time to search for resources!