For each main concept, you will need to come up with two or three alternative terms, including synonyms and singular and plural forms of the words. Sometimes synonyms, plurals, and singulars aren’t enough. So also consider associations with other words and concepts. For instance, it might help, when looking for information on the common cold, to include the term virus—because a type of virus causes the common cold.
Your search strategy needs to include alternative terms to make sure you don't miss any valuable resources. For example, if you only searched for articles that contained the term bird flu, and not H1N1, you would only see a fraction of the research available.
Tip: Try a Thesaurus
If you're struggling to come up with synonyms or related terms, try using a thesaurus. Be aware that some words may have connotations or multiple meanings.
ACTIVITY: Finding Synonyms
When figuring out search terms, you can try your search terms in Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary, to see the connections visually in a diagram reminiscent of a neural net. It can help you see connections between terms that are not easy to think of.
Subject Headings Instead of Keywords
All the searches we have talked about so far have been keyword searches, usually used in search engines. But sometimes it pays to use tools—such as library catalogs and journal article databases—that have subject headings that you can search. Subject headings are standardized terms that are assigned by trained experts. (Some such tools also allow keyword searching.) See the section on Specialized Databases for more detail about searching subject headings.