Module 2: Formulating a Research Question and Searching for Sources

Related Keywords

Your search strategy can contain your main keywords, similar or related keywords and controlled terms (also called subject headings).

Searching by a keyword will retrieve resources where the author(s) used that specific term. For this specific reason, you should also brainstorm similar or related keywords to incorporate into your search.

Methods for Identifying More Keywords

You can identify more keywords in multiple ways. Below are two methods.

Method 1: Use a Concept Model or Map

To use this method:

  1. Write your research topic or question, along with any ideas and concepts associated with it on a blank sheet of paper.
  2. Use themes to group your ideas, and connect related concepts using lines.
  3. Remember to include the following:
    • Synonyms
    • Acronyms
    • Brand names and generic names
    • Variation in spelling (e.g. “paediatric” or “pediatric”)

Please see Figure 2.1 below for an example where your research question is “How effective is cognitive behavioral therapy in improving mild-to-moderate depression in adolescents?”


Example of a concept map for brainstorming more search terms. Please see long description.
Figure 2.1. Example of a “Concept Map” to generate more keywords. Source: Jo-Ann Petropoules. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 4.0

Method 2: Use Your Main Keywords in a Database

To use this method:

  1. Locate an article on your topic.
  2. Scan the title, abstract, and author keywords to identify more keywords (see Figure 2.2 below) to use in your search.
: Journal articles have a section called Keywords, which list the terms associated with the article
Figure 2.2. Example of how to find keywords in a journal article. From Youssef, N. A., McCall, W. V., Ravilla, D., McCloud, L., & Rosenquist, P. B. (2020). Double-blinded randomized pilot clinical trial comparing cognitive side effects of standard ultra-brief right unilateral ect to 0.5 a low amplitude seizure therapy (lap-st). Brain Sciences, 10(12), 97. Licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0.

Key Takeaways

Some databases like Ovid MEDLINE, PubMed and EBSCO CINAHL use controlled vocabularies like MeSH as well as keywords. The next section will explain what controlled vocabularies are and how to use them. If you know you are going to use a database with controlled vocabularies, please check out the next section.

Learning Activity

Brainstorm more concepts


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Advanced Research Skills: Conducting Literature and Systematic Reviews Copyright © 2021 by Kelly Dermody; Cecile Farnum; Daniel Jakubek; Jo-Anne Petropoulos; Jane Schmidt; and Reece Steinberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book