What is it that you want to know?
Why is your topic important to the scholarly conversation?
What do we know already?
Coming up with keywords and using search terms will help you fine tune your search so you avoid having too many results, or too few. You can do this in a number of ways:
1) Be specific.
Use similar terms, synonyms, or specific terminology. For example, instead of using eating disorders you might use anorexia or bulimia. Or, use specific terms like eating disorders in the 1980s among men. Keep a list of keywords that work.
2) Link your terms in specific ways.
Use AND, OR, NOT to control search rankings and results. A better search phrase might be: anorexia AND eating disorders AND 1980s AND men.
3) Get rid of what you don’t need or want.
Since anorexia is a specific type of eating disorder, we really don’t need to include "eating disorders" as well.
4) Broaden terms to capture variation with * (asterisk).
Example, a search for grad* will search for a variety of terms that build on the stem such as graduate, graduating, graduates, etc.
5) Search for phrases
Search for words that should always appear in a particular sequence, search for the entire phrase by using quotation marks. "Eating disorders" will look for those two words as a phrase instead of looking for eating and disorders as separate words.
State your research topic or question. (Ex., What do we do with children who commit crimes?)
Define your search terms, then identify synonyms, related phrases, or more specific terms. (Ex., children, minors, juveniles, delinquency, incarceration)
Create a search phrase based on your search terms. (child* AND delinquen* AND incarceration)