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Jot down the main terms that relate to your research question. Include terms that are broader or narrower than your topic. These terms are called key terms (or keywords), and they are the words you will use when you search for sources. It is helpful to keep track of these in your notes and add terms that work well to your list as you come upon them in your research.
Example research question: How can companion animals improve health?
Key terms: pets, pet therapy, companion animals, therapeutic use, health, health benefits, chronic illness
For complicated or more involved research, it may be helpful to organize and keep track of your terms in a chart:
It's helpful to have a variety of keywords to choose from, so you can adjust your search until you find results that match your topic. Being able to search for synonyms and related terms, as well as knowing how to search for broader or narrower terms, will increase your chances of finding an appropriate set of relevant results.
Example Keyword: Orca
Narrower term: Juvenile Orca, Broader term: Whale, Similar term: Killer Whale, Related term: Marine Biology
Think about different ways to combine your search terms. Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) can be used to target specific results, expand findings, and exclude irrelevant concepts.
Example: Video games AND (Teenagers or Adolescents) NOT Children - this search will bring up any results that include both "video games" and "teenagers", as well as any results that include both "video games" and "adolescents", while excluding any results that include the word "children".