Saturday, July 1, 2006

Use Synonyms to Expand your Keyword List

When you're searching a library resource, an internet search engine, or even a book index, it's smart to consider additional or alternative search terms in addition to the ones you've selected. This will help you get more accurate results and expand your search if needed. By locating and using synonyms for your key search terms, you may retrieve results that address your topic that you wouldn't have encountered otherwise. For example, a search for:

children AND drugs

in a library research database may retrieve several relevant articles. However, an author or indexer may have chosen different words for those terms and until you consider synonyms you may not find other valuable material. For example, in addition to "children," you might consider "adolescent," "youth," "infant," "teenager," etc. depending on your research scope. Expand "drugs" to either include names of specific drugs, like "cocaine," or if you are referring to medicinal drugs, consider "pharmaceuticals" or "medicine." Not only will this expand your search to include additional results but may contribute to your research in ways that you hadn't originally expected, such as additional related topics, key people, or studies that you hadn't been aware of.

You can find synonyms using either a print thesaurus, if you have one handy, or try one of these online versions:
You might also try looking at the text and assigned subject terms of an article you have already found - different authors often use different terminology to describe similar things.

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