|Tarleton State University Libraries
begin locating materials, researchers must first identify viable search
terms. This process can involve several steps and resources as explained
key concepts in a topic involves analyzing an information
need and identifying main ideas related to that need. For example,
if you need to find materials to help you discuss "how
personality influences decision-making in small groups"
you might choose the following terms as the key concepts: 1)
personality, 2) decision-making, 3) small groups.
Often choosing nouns and unique words as your key words works well.
Also, using words that seem typical for a topic usually works well.
Determining key words also involves thinking about your subject and
determining what words would probably be used to "label"
information in an online or print search tool. Since library catalogs
and databases search specific fields (parts of an item's record),
thinking about what words might be used as labels is useful. Also,
because some Internet tools search entire works, identifying key words
and possible synonyms helps reduce the number of irrelevant searches
in results lists.
This process is really no different than the one used to locate business
listings in the yellow pages--similar businesses are grouped together
under somewhat standardized labels. However, just like when we use
the yellow pages, sometimes what we are looking for is listed under
a heading we would not have considered. This is also the case with
search tools because they usually incorporate controlled vocabularies.
Vocabulary Terms are more sharply-defined word choices than
we use in daily conversations. These terms are used in most
search tools. Their use arose from the need to solve searching
issues that were created by the ambiguity in many words and
the fact that many terms are often used to name the same thing.
For example, the words bosses, managers, supervisors, and executives
are often used interchangeably.)
Most search tools incorporate controlled vocabulary terms (also called
standardized language) so that items related to a topic are indexed
and retrievable using the same terms. However, the use of controlled
vocabulary terms often makes using search tools difficult unless researchers
are familiar with a discipline or profession and its terminology.
To increase the chances of retrieving relevant results in online search
tools, most are designed to search "free text" fields (e.g.
title and abstract) in addition to the "subject terms" fields.
However, knowing the subject terms used in a specific search tool
will greatly enhance the efficiency of a researcher's time and efforts.
for Search Term Ideas: Lists of controlled vocabulary terms
are often available in online databases through links called
"subject terms," "thesaurus terms," or "preferred
terms." Also, databases and library catalogs usually incorporate
subject terms as part of a retrieved item's record, which helps
researchers identify words to use in searches.
Subject-specific periodical indexes and abstracts are also good sources
to use when picking search terms because headings in these search
tools usually transfer well to online searches. For example, Business
Periodicals Index would be a good source of possible search terms
to use when researching business-related topics.
In addition, specialized subject heading guides and thesauri like
the Thesaurus of International Trade Terms and the Texas
State Publications Thesaurus offer lists of controlled vocabulary
terms, which can be incorporated into searches.
In summary, the following processes are useful when determining search
key concepts in an information need.
a subject heading guide or thesaurus for a specific field.
the subject list or thesaurus for a specific online search
at headings in periodical indexes and abstracts that list
citations related to your subject.
at item records when using online search tools. Note the
terms listed in the subject or descriptor fields and use them
Locating materials often requires searching with both print and online
search tools. Therefore, the next few sections offer tips for creating
efficient searches in these tools to retrieve more precise and relevant
Library Orientation Site Index
4: Overview and Goals
Searches in Print Tools