Skip to Main Content

Literature searching: How to find and use databases: 2. Selecting search terms

An introduction to undertaking literature searches. Planning your search, selecting search terms and constructing searches. Evaluating material you find, and recording and referencing the sources you use.

Select keywords / search terms

Once you have identified the constituent concepts of your topic, you should think about the search terms (or ‘keywords’) that you will use to search for material within databases. It is important to spend some time identifying alternative terms to express the same concept. It may be that an author has written a relevant piece, but has used different terms to those you have first thought of to express the concepts.

You may find that this is often the case if you are looking for materials from different time periods. You may also find that different terms are used in different geographical areas – so you may need to take account of this.

It is useful to take an original term you have thought of and systematically identify: Broader terms; Narrower terms; Related terms; Synonyms (alternative terms); and Antonyms (or opposite  terms).

For example:

Original term

Broader terms

Narrower terms

Related terms





Team sports

Ball games

Goal games

Youth football

Beach football

Indor football



Scottish Premiership



American Football?

Gaelic football?