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Library DIY: Search Terms

Creating Search Terms

Identifying search terms is often the most challenging part of research, because the terms are crucial to your ability to locate resources that you need. It can be frustrating when you can't find what you want, but you just need to keep adjusting your search terms and you'll be successful! The quick answer is to start with your topic or research question, and then look for alternative ways to say the words or ideas. Try using a thesaurus!

Here is the more detailed approach:

First, identify your research question. A research question could be: What are the effects of weightlifting on young adults?

Second, select the key words from your research question. In our example, the key words are:

What are the effects of weightlifting on young adults?

Third, look for alternatives for the key words you've identified. Be sure to try a thesaurus to help identify alternatives that may not be obvious.

  • Weightlifting: powerlifting, strength training, weight training, exercise
  • Young adults: teens, males, females, teenagers, adolescence
  • Effects: side effects, results, consequences

Fourth, try your searches by combining your keywords and alternatives using Boolean operators. Boolean Operators, which are AND, OR, or NOT, connect or eliminate your search terms.


Boolean Operators Example Ven Diagram
















The example for AND, "puppy AND dog," will give you any result that mentions puppies and dogs.

The example for OR, "puppy OR dog," will give you results that mention puppies, dogs, or both puppies and dogs.

The example for NOT, "puppy NOT dog," will only provide results that mention puppy. Any results that also mention dog will be eliminated.

You will have to do a few searches to locate the resources you're looking for! Use ( ) to group terms together. Based on our example, here are just some of the searches you should try.

"Weightlifting AND (young adults OR teenagers OR teens) AND side effects NOT cardio"

Weightlifting AND young adults

Young adults AND (workout NOT cardio)


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