Choose your search terms

Choose your search terms

Once you have analysed your assignment question and are clear what your key topics are then you are ready to choose your search terms. Two very important things to be aware of when searching for information are these:

1. Computers do not like complete sentences! If you type a long string of words into a computer you will not find many results. Instead you must pick the keywords out of your topic and ignore any unnecessary words.


Instead of typing: 'the psychological effects of domestic violence on children'
Try: domestic violence AND children AND psychological effects

2. Computers search for the words you type in and nothing else!


  • The effects of intimate partner violence on children
  • Childhood experiences of domestic violence
  • Battered women, children and social welfare: making an impact
  • A child's needs: parenting capacity and the impact of family violence

All of the above documents might be useful for an assignment on 'the psychological effects of domestic violence on children but if the only search terms you use are: domestic violence AND children AND psychological effects you will not find any of them!

To maximise your chances of finding information try exploring your keywords and think of any alternatives. You will find this much easier if you consult a thesaurus (available via Credo Reference) or try Visuwords (a free online graphical thesaurus) to help you. Consider:

  • Synonyms - e.g. children = child, childhood, childhoods, juvenile, juveniles, young people, youngster, youngsters, minor, minors etc. If you are looking for a phrase e.g. 'domestic violence' try treating each word individually and draw upon your own knowledge of the topic.
  • Broader and narrower terms - e.g. a broader term for 'children' might be 'young people' or 'minors'. A narrower term might be 'infants' or 'adolescents'.
  • Plurals - e.g. juvenile, juveniles
  • Alternative spellings - this will chiefly be useful if there is an international dimension to your research and you are interested in American as well as British materials.

What are the limits to your search?

Most library catalogues, databases and search engines include some limiting features to enable you to narrow down your search and exclude irrelevant materials. The extent of the limiting features offered may vary. Below are listed some of the most common:

  • Date - how recent does the material need to be? e.g last 5 years?, last 10 years?
  • Language - are you only interested in material written in English?
  • Material type - are you only interested in a certain type of material e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Geographical - are you only interested in material from a particular country e.g. UK

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