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Literature searching

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Identifying your search terms

The first step is to identify the keywords or concepts in your essay title, report or dissertation topic.

For example, imagine that you are researching this question:

Consider the impact of public opinion on US foreign policy

Write down what you consider to be the main concepts or keywords.

Next, consider alternative ways of expressing these concepts.

Synonyms are words that have the same meaning e.g. 'myocardial infarction' is the medical term for a heart attack. This means that if you were to look for information about 'heart attacks' in a medical information source, you may not find anything. However if you looked in a medical thesaurus for the phrase 'heart attack' you would see the phrase 'myocardial infarction'.

You could also consider using antonyms (opposites). For example, if you have been asked to consider the effects of light on tomato plants, you could also consider what happens in the dark (being the absence of light). Remember, there may be many synonyms, antonyms and alternative phrases that you could use in your search strategy.

Use this worksheet to help you prepare your own search strategy:
Search worksheet