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Research: Getting Started

Brainstorming Search Terms - The Basics

In this section you will learn to:

  • Come up with key concepts related to your topic
  • Think of synonyms for concepts

Once you've decided upon your topic, resist the urge to jump right into a search for books, articles and Web pages. Instead, take a little time to brainstorm possible keywords, which will save you time and frustration in the long run.

Identify Key Concepts

To come up with keywords, break your research question into smaller concepts.

For example, the following research question contains three smaller concepts: are children who play video games are more likely to be violent

Come Up with Synonyms

Synonyms are different words that describe the same thing or idea.

Here are some examples of synonyms: 

snake image statue of man crying image car image
snake, serpent grieve, mourn, lament, sorrow car, automobile, sedan, clunker


Databases of articles and web search engines do not have brains, so they do not think of synonyms for search terms you enter. To avoid missing out on good information, you need to brainstorm synonyms before you begin searching. For the research topic about whether children who play video games are more likely to be violent, there are multiple synonyms for each concept. Even if you can't think of exact synonyms, think of terms that are related, but just a little narrower or broader. 

 Don't worry if you cannot think of synonyms for a certain concepts. Some concepts do not really have synonyms. For example, there are few synonyms for the word "Autism".


For more information see our Getting Started: Searching Tips Guide.

Use the online searching techniques from this guide to improve your search results. 


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