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Literature search: From key concepts to search terms

Overall guide for literature search

From key concepts to search terms

Once you have determined your key concepts you start gathering search terms. The right search terms are the most important conditions for an effective search.

Example: from key concepts to search terms

Topic : Investigating people's behaviour on social media in South Africa

There are three main keywords/ concepts in this topic:

  • social media
  • behaviour
  • South Africa

For each main keyword you can think of search terms:

  • social media = social media, viral content, new media, social networking service, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blog …
  • behaviour = behaviour, behavior, functioning, reaction, operation, working, performance…
  • South Africa = South Africa, Republic of South Africa, Africa, Johannesburg, Cape Town…

Formulating search terms

Make an exhaustive list of terms related to your keywords or concepts of your topic.

When generating search terms, keep this in mind:

  • Synonyms
  • Broader terms
  • Narrower terms
  • Related terms
  • Antonyms
  • Translation into languages relevant for subject and discipline
  • Spelling variations  
  • Abbreviations
  • Acronyms  

You can also check:

  • Translation Dictionaries
  • Thesauri
  • Encyclopedias
  • Literature you already found
  • Handbooks
  • Wikipedia

Generate search terms