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Finding books & journals: Identify key terms

"The identification of the key words of a research study is the first essential step in identifying relevant literature. Unless this is done in a careful, logical way, you will probably fail to identify some of the key areas of literature"

Paul Oliver, Succeeding with your literature review

The first step in planning your search strategy is to identify key terms. It is important to consider the keywords related to your search topic and consequently establish appropriate terms. Rather than entering a whole assignment title, you need to pick out the important words needed to describe your topic. The database will only look for what you type in, so for each keyword, you need to apply a few search tips.


Synonyms and related terms

When identifying key terms, you need to consider any synonyms (a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language). Dictionaries and Thesauruses can help you identify useful synonyms, and the University of Hull subscribes to The Oxford English Dictionary which is available online. 

Example: Synonyms of teenager would include: teen, teens, youth, juvenile, adolescent. Academic articles may refer to any of these terms so you should include all in your search

Formal and informal terminology

When searching it is important to consider formal and technical terminology alongside informal terms. Academic papers and articles may refer to either. 

Example 1: If looking for literature on 'heart attacks', you should also include formal terminologies in your search like 'myocardial infarction'.
Example 2: If investigating the use of instant messaging, you may want to include terms like 'chat' in your search.

Acronyms and abbreviations

You should always consider acronyms and abbreviations for different words, phrases and even organisations when searching as authors may use either in their titles and articles.

Example 1: 'myocardial infarction' is often shortened to M.I.
Example 2: Popular social media tools are often abbreviated, for example, FB for Facebook.

American spelling and terminology

It is important to consider American spellings and terminologies in a lot of literature searches. The next page will introduce search operators to help you search for both English and American spellings in your search. 

Example 1: In the United Kingdom, pre-school is called a nursery or creche. In America, this is referred to as Kindergarten.
Example 2: The American spelling of behaviour is behavior.

Word endings and plurals

When searching you should consider alternative word endings and plurals. The next page will introduce search operators to help you include these in your search. 

Example 1: If searching for 'educate', you should consider whether alternative endings like 'education', 'educating', 'educated' are useful in your search.
Example 2: If searching for 'university', you should consider if the plural (universities) is useful in your search.