Think about your topic and describe it in one sentence.
Ask yourself what words most nearly describe the subject you are searching. Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms could become the key to your search for information.
Once you have written this topic sentence, pick out the keywords in the sentence, ignoring articles such as the, in, which, etc. Usually you will come up with two or three keywords or concepts that describe the topic.
Use a technique called clustering. It is a way of free associating ideas that come into your mind. You can use these terms to explore and refine your topic. Consider the subject of bodybuilding. Using the clustering technique, think of all the words you associate with bodybuilding.
- weight lifting
- physical fitness
- sports medicine
Focus on the terms you come up with that are specific. Narrate your research topic to a question. For example: Does body building enhance self-esteem? Once the concepts have been identified, you will probably want to use one or all of them. If you search using one concept and it yields few results, you should include some additional terms in the search. If you cannot come up with significant words, you can use a thesaurus, for synonyms.
Use keyword searching when you are looking for material on a topic and do not have specific titles or authors in mind. Keyword searching allows you to type in a term or terms and have them searched anywhere within the record holdings of the database. This is a good way to jumpstart your search. However, it is not as precise as subject searching, which uses specific terms (a controlled vocabulary) established by the Library of Congress or the publishers of the database you are using. You may come across subject terms during your search. If you do, use them!