How Can I Find Useful Search Terms?

The focal concepts should be translated or formatted into search terms to be used in the retrieval process. Most often, the concept itself is the first good search term. However, you shouldn’t rely on the concept alone, as plenty of relevant information may be missed if you only search with a single word.

Alternative search terms can be systematically mapped out:

  • language (at least English and Finnish are needed): young – nuoret
  • synonym and another close expression: burnout – exhaustion
  • antonym may be useful: sympathy – antipathy
  • broader whole with which the concept is associated with: play therapy – psychotherapy
  • more specific subarea that is included in the concept: depth psychology – subconscious
  • related concept: analytic psychology  – psychoanalysis
  • variation in written form: behavior – behaviour; personality disorders – personality-related disorders
  • abbreviations: sr.– senior

How to come up with search terms?

Instead of “coming up” with search terms, finding search terms is based on knowledge of the scientific field’s and topic’s vocabulary. This knowledge is sought in the literature and with different tools.

Examples of scientific field’s literature and tools are:

  • Dictionaries, handbooks, reference works
  • Textbooks in the field
  • Journals in the field (browsing the focal journals related to the field or subject area, e-journals)
  • Tables of contents and lists of references from the publications that were found, descriptive terms (index terms, keywords) provided by the database’s reference information
  • Glossaries
  • Experimental searches from the internet or databases; “browsing” information retrieval
  • Reading literature in the field
  • Asking search term ideas from AI

Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content.

Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content.

Concepts, search terms, and index terms can be assembled in a variety of ways. Choose your preferred manner of outlining your search topic into concepts, search terms, and possibly index terms.

Some commonly used tools are listed below:

  • Concept map is a popular tool for outlining concepts and the relations between them. There are also tools for drawing up a concept map, such as Mindmeister. Visit Mindmeister’s website.
  • Mind map is a free-form tool that is useful for visual outlining and coming up with ideas, most suited for personal use.  The relations between concepts may not be too defined a mind map.
  • Bullet points may be used to compile the concepts into a list.

Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content.