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Planning Your Search


Keywords are the words you decide to use in your search, or the words related to your topic or appearing in your search results.

EXAMPLE: Your research topic is the impact of the media on perceptions about the Affordable Care Act. The keywords are "media," "perceptions," and "Affordable Care Act."

A keyword searches all of the fields in the database record, including title, abstract or summary, and subjects or descriptors. The search looks for each of the keywords wherever they appear, either by themselves or in different orders. This can result in too many or too few results, and it may retrieve irrelevant results.

Subject Searching

Subject searching is a specialized type of search. Subject terms, also called descriptors, come from a pre-determined or controlled vocabulary. It searches only the subject or descriptor fields in a library catalog or database. This identifies what the item is about.

When you find an article that fits your research topic, look at the subject terms that are assigned to the record. This will provide additional keywords and concepts to find materials relevant to your search.

Using the previous example, the following Subject Terms are applied to several articles retrieved from Academic Search Premier:

  • Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act
  • Public Opinion
  • Mass Media
  • Practical Politics
  • Advertising
  • Television
  • Mass Media Criticism
  • News Syndicates
  • Health Care Reform

​These terms can be added to your search to expand the results, or to find additional relevant resources

Working with Search Concepts

1. Formulate your search strategy by breaking your topic into concepts.

Your topic is the impact of the media on perceptions of the Affordable Care Act.

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
media perceptions Affordable Care Act

2. List all relevant keywords

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
media perceptions Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act
mass media opinions Affordable Care Act
broadcast television public opinion ACA
news attitudes Obamacare

3. Organize how your search will be entered, using search operators: AND, OR, NOT. Remember, the more terms included in your search, the narrower the results become.