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Search Strategies: Tips for Working with Databases: Creating Search Terms

The following guide is an introduction to creating search terms, and using subject headings, keywords and search syntax.

Creating a Search

There are many strategies that you may employ when looking for information in a database. When starting your search, it is important to plan out your search strategy in advance, and follow these 4 important steps to insure that you receive the results that you are looking for.

1. Define your topic (write a few sentences that explain what you are looking for)
2. Choose keywords (select keywords from your sentences)
3. Group like keywords together
4. Decide how groups of keywords are related.



  • Decide which groups of like keywords are essential - start with these
  • Be aware of the need to include singular/plural forms, alternative words, British spelling.
  • Build the search up in small, logical steps.
  • Short Phrase searching can also be a very effective tool, but should be used with caution. (the phrase that seems logical to you may not be the best or most appropriate one)
  • Experiment with short phrase searching after trying single key word.

How to Choose Keywords

Here's a helpful video on choosing your keywords to build an effective search strategy from McMaster University.