B for Brainstorming Search Terms

Generating Search Terms (Keywords)

Keywords are the words used in an article title, abstract, or other text field in a database. Keyword searching, or natural language searching, is how most people search for information and is often sufficient. One drawback of searching with keywords is that the words that you use must match the terms used by an author.

To remedy this problem, a complete keyword search strategy will include multiple spellings and synonyms that represent the concept. Keyword searching is also useful when attempting to identify literature that may not have been indexed with controlled vocabulary terms, for any variety of reasons.

Think of synonyms, acronyms, antonyms, and initialisms associated with the concepts in your topic. See how other authors refer to your topic. Start by keeping a list in a document.

Keyword Generation Tips

  • If looking for prevention, you will also need to look for causation.
  • Review MeSH or other database controlled vocabularies to find related terms.
  • Look at relevant articles on your topic to find potential keywords.
  • Browse a dictionary, thesaurus, or encyclopedia.

Using Keywords

  • Keywords can be any words used to describe your idea or concept.
  • Keywords can be single words or phrases.
  • Use quotes around all phrases to ensure that the phrase is searched together.
  • For more ideas, visit the MeSH database and look at the entry terms listed in the MeSH record.
  • Also consider using synonyms, acroynyms, initialisms, variations in spelling, and other closely-related terms used interchangeably to describe the topic.

Keyword Generation

Keywords can be generated by:

  • browsing entry terms in PubMed’s MeSH, and synonyms in Embase’s Emtree to add additional keywords to a concept;
  • looking at a few key articles and seeing how the terminology is used; and by
  • doing a few preliminary searches and browsing the results to see how the terminology is used.