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Psychology: 3) Identifying Keywords

How do I tell the database what I want to look for?

Databases work on a principle called keyword searching which basically means that the databases can only use your key concepts to match against it's records. Using extra unnecessary words will cause issues for the database. 

The advance search screen is set up with three search boxes which act as a visual reminder to help you build your search. The database wants you to give each keyword or concept it's own search box.

How do I select my keywords?

Take a look at your research topic and try to narrow it down to a few key concepts by dropping all of the extra fluff words

In this example, we would end up with PTSD and College Students as our keywords.

You should be careful with words like impact, effects etc. The database doesn't need those terms to know that it is looking for a relationship between these two topics but they might indicate that you need to define your topic better.

In this example, what kind of impact are you looking for: is it on academic achievement? is it on socialization? is it on alcohol consumption? is it on risky behavior? All of these are different search options to consider. 

Is my topic too broad?

Often times students start with a topic that needs to be narrowed and that can be a struggle. Additionally, research is often more meaningful when the topic is one that interests you. so try to keep that in mind. 

1) You should always have at least two keywords/concepts that you are looking for. If you only know that you want to search on PTSD, try adding in a specific population to add more focus. Some examples might be veterans, women, college students, survivors of domestic abuse. 

2) You can do exploratory searching in the database with fewer keywords and then see what you find when you explore the results. 

My keywords are not giving me what I want?

Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board on keywords. If you already have some identified, think about terms that are narrower, broader and similar to what you're already working with. 

College Students:

Narrower- Nursing Students

Broader- Students

Similar- University Students 

Sometimes it makes sense to use a broader term if your specific population isn't providing results. 

The database also has a tool to help you generate potential keywords. It is called the thesaurus and is located along the top of the page. 

In the thesaurus, you can search your keywords and see if they are identified in the database or if they recommend a different word. Not all terms will show up in the thesaurus but it can be helpful for terms that are complicated or medical in nature. 

Some additional tools for building your search

Databases use Boolean Operators to build searches. The standard setting is to use the operator AND because you are looking for the relationship between items, that is why it is auto-populated on the advanced search. There are not many times that you would need to change that. 

The other Boolean operators are OR and NOT.

You would use the OR operator to build complex searches such as

PTSD AND (College Students OR Undergraduates)

You would use the NOT operator if there is a related term that you do not want to come up in your search results. 

If you have a keyword that is actually a concept made up of multiple words, you can put the entire term in quotation marks. This will tell the database that you want to find those words in that order.

So instead of: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

You would search for: "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder"


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