Brainstorming Related Terms

Describing Main Concepts

In many instances, there are various ways that a main concept can be described. Not every information source will use the same term to describe the same thing! Take the topic of genetically modified food, for example. Though “genetically modified food” is commonly used, terms like “GMO,” “genetically modified organism,” “genetic engineering,” and “genetic modification” are often used by scientists to describe the same thing.

This is also a good time to look at your main concepts and decide if the keywords you’ve selected to describe them are too broad or too narrow. In the previous example, using the key phrase genetic engineering when looking for information about specific types of organisms that have been genetically modified, may be too broad of a term that yields irrelevant results. Also keep in mind the type of information you are searching for: If you need scholarly research articles, scientific terminology is more likely to be used in those resources; if you are searching for information that may appear in popular periodicals (like magazines and newspapers), more general, everyday language is likely to be used (e.g., myocardial infarction versus heart attack).

Brainstorming Alternatives

It can be helpful to list your keywords and any alternative or or phrases that may be helpful to your search. You may want to return to those reference sources you used for finding background information on your topic to see what terms and phrases were used. You may also try searching in a thesaurus for some synonyms, and you may even come back to this step later in the research process once you have completed some initial searches and discovered some helpful new alternative terms. Some databases will also list “related terms,” which can be helpful for modifying your search. On the other hand, some keywords are unique, and have no other terms that could be used in their place.

Main Concept/ Keyword Alternative/Related Alternative/Related Alternative/Related
divorce separation split up parental conflict
student’s GPA grade point average academic performance academic achievement
high school school secondary school

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Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.