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To determine what terms to use when searching your topic it can be useful to write out your question and underline the words that express the central concepts.  For example, if you are interested in researching:

What influence do terrorst attacks have on tourism?

You would focus in on the underlined words:

  • What influence do terrorst attacks have on tourism?

Then, you could construct your first search as follows:

  • terrorism AND tourism

Using AND

In most search tools - Google, Google Scholar, Discovery - the computer code that manages your search assumes you are looking for both terms near each other. In a few search tools, though - EBSCO databases, for example - the computer code assumes you are looking for both terms next to each other, as a phrase. If you want to be able to re-use your searches in different search tools, it can be helpful to always insert an AND when you do not want your terms searched as phrases.  The AND must be capitalised to work properly.

For this sample topic the search, 'terrorism AND tourism' is a good start. It is often a good idea to be fairly broad with your first searches, anyway, to get familiar with the kind of literature that is available. As you dig into your topic, though, as get a clearer understanding of the topic you want to explore, you can refine your approach.

The first step to refining your searches, and perhaps altering your research topic, is identifying other useful keywords. Beyond the words you can think of on your own pay attention to the words and phrases in the document descriptions you find with your preliminary searches. These words can give you good ideas of what you might want to incorporate into future searches. For example:

  • instead of 'terrorism' you could experiment with 'terrorist', 'persistent terrorism', 'political violence' or 'political unrest'.
  • instead of 'tourist' you could experiment with, 'tourism', 'international tourists', 'international tourism', 'global tourism' or 'domestic tourism'.

Searching for phrases

If you want to search for two or more words as a phrase, enclose those in quotation marks. For example, a search "international tourism" will bring back results with those words side by side.

Using OR

If you want to search more than one similar term/phrase at a time, insert a capitalised OR between the words/phrases. The OR must be capitalised for it to work properly. For example, a search for 'terrorism OR “political unrest” ' will bring results with one or both of those words/phrases.

Putting all this together:

You can combine all of these tips at once to make your searches more efficient. For example a search for

(terrorism OR “political unrest”) AND (“global tourism” OR “international tourism”)

will look for literature that has either the word 'terrorism' OR the phrase, “political unrest” as well as either the phrase, “global tourism” OR “international tourism”.

Being able to search for different combinations of useful words and phrases helps you save time.

Want more information?

Please click on the DEMN linking research with practice research question to see an example of how a real research question was broken down into searchable keywords.

If you're still unclear about choosing keywords or setting up your search structure, please speak with a librarian.

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