Finding scientific information: Search terms

Finding search terms

Through structuring the topic the information needed on the subject can be defined more specific. The topic is divided into sections which are described with search terms. Common search terms are:

  • the central concepts of the problem
  • synonyms and foreign language equivalents for the concepts
  • related, broader and narrower terms
  • classification codes

Useful tools to get familiar with the concepts and terminology of the research field are journal articles, reference works, handbooks, dictionaries, thesauruses etc. Terminology and concepts for different disciplines can be found in thesauruses and dictionaries, which can also contain translations of these words into other languages. Handbooks, on the other hand, contain extensive articles, which give a good preliminary understanding of the topic. In journal articles you can find terminology of the field and also different expressions and spelling forms.

Terminology related to the topic can be found from various sources of information such as reference books, dictionaries, basic literature in the discipline etc. It is also advisable to look for search terms also in databases related to the field and in their own thesauruses, as well as in articles.


The choice of search term is dependent also on the database being used; is the database multidisciplinary or is it limited for a certain discipline, what kind of content and also search techniques it provides. E.g. different expressions of search terms like singular and plural forms, other conjugations, different spellings etc. need to take into account when performing searches in databases. The norms are usually database specific and thus must always be checked in the instructions of the database. The most common ways are different truncation and substitution symbols. Databases increasingly also have different automatic functions, and it is neccessary to know how they work as well.

Synonyms and alternative spellings and expressions

In order to achieve a comprehensive search result, it is worth thinking of synonyms, and alternative expressions and spelling forms for the terms. For instance, there are several synonyms and different expressions for 'bird flu'.

It is also useful to note alternative written forms and abbreviations for the search terms.

Some examples of differences between American and British English spelling and terminology.