Literature search strategy: choosing keywords
Having defined the search topic and identified the key concepts, you need to produce a list of keywords that will be used as your search terms when you begin your search. Your keywords should consist of all possible words or phrases that might be used to describe your subject.
In the following example search question: "Evaluate the impact of the Internet on practices for recruitment and selection employed by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)", the following key concepts were identified:
- recruitment and selection
Take a few moments to try and think of keywords for each of the key concepts above. When choosing keywords, all possible words or phrases that might be used to describe your subject should be considered, including:
- Synonyms (words that mean the same thing)
- Alternative terminology and spelling (e.g. US & UK)
- Related terms (broader or narrower).
- Variations in word endings (e.g. singular or plural)
To do this you might like to use a dictionary to check your definition of the key concepts or a thesaurus to help you to develop synonyms. Once you have thought of some keywords click on the link below to view the keywords that we have come up with. This is not a comprehensive list: you may have thought of other keywords that we haven't!
internet: internet, world wide web, www.
recruitment and selection: recruitment, selection, personnel, human resources, human resource management.
SMEs: firm(s), company(ies), business(es), organis/zation(s), small enterprises.
In this comparison of search strategies, we have added the keywords to examples of linear, family tree and graphical (concept map) search strategies. Click here to see this comparison as an animation. We have also added prompts to define the concepts as this might help to expand the search at a later date if required. Additionally, during the course of the search you may come across further key words that you can add to your search strategy such as alternative words or alternative spellings.
N.B. Each key word can be used as a search term or as part of a query. For example, "employment" would be a search term within the query: employment AND recruitment (Stacey and Stacey 2004).