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Guide to information retrieval: Choosing your search terms


The guideline to achieving best results in information retrieval is using specific and precise search terms. Try to find search terms that describe your topic as accurately as possible.

Mind maps and concept maps offer ways to outline your research problem, and may help you identify suitable search terms.

Research literature, articles, dictionaries, specialised vocabularies and thesauruses are also good resources for possible search terms.

Dividing your topic into themes

Each group contains one aspect of the topic.

Topic example: "Why some entrepreneurs survive from failures better than others?"

Search terms are divided into separate themes:

  • Search terms about entrepreneurship: entrepreneur, enterpriser

  • Search terms about failure: failure (crisis, risky, uncertainty)

  • Search terms about surviving: survive, success

  • Possible additional search terms: persistence, social skills

Synonyms, narrower or broader terms

When you are choosing your search terms, you should also consider using synonyms and possibly broader and narrower terms as well.

  • Synonyms: Personnel management - human resource management
  • Broader: Management
  • Narrower: Recruiment


If there is an acronym for your search term, you might want to use it as well.

  • HRM - human resource management


Equivalent terms in other languages

In international databases searches are usually made in English. If the database contains material in different languages, it is preferable to make searches using multiple langauges.

  • Markkinointi - marketing

Altering your search terms

You may have to alter your  search terms during the information retrieval process. Successful and relevant search results are also a good resource for new search terms, so take time to look through the vocabulary available in the material you find (keywords, subject terms etc. in relevant search results might be good places to find new search terms)..