23 Related and Alternative Terms

For each main concept, list alternative terms, including synonyms and singular and plural forms of the words.

Sometimes synonyms, plurals, and singulars aren’t enough. So also consider associations with other words and concepts. For instance, it might help, when looking for information on the common cold, to include the term virus—because a type of virus causes the common cold.

Check to make sure that your terms are not too broad or too narrow for what you want. Figuring out what’s too broad or too narrow takes practice and may differ a bit with each search.

Tip: Try a Thesaurus

Have you considered using a thesaurus, such as thesaurus.com? Or adding a thesaurus to your browser search bar?

Activity: Finding Synonyms

When figuring out search terms, you can try your search terms in Visuwords <visuwords.com>, an online graphical dictionary, to see the connections visually in a diagram reminiscent of a neural net. It can help you see connections between terms that are not easy to think of.

Activity: Alternate Terms

Open activity in a web browser.

Subject Headings Instead of Keywords

All the searches we have talked about so far have been keyword searches, usually used in search engines. But sometimes it pays to use tools—such as library catalogs and journal article databases—that have subject headings that you can search. Subject headings are standardized terms that are assigned by trained experts. (Some such tools also allow keyword searching.) See the section on Specialized Databases for more detail about searching subject headings.


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