Fire Staff and Command

Identify search terms

A successful search is based on good search terms that harness the specialized language of the discipline to identify the main points of your question. Think of a database like a sales clerk at a hardware or auto parts store. Both of these stores serve trades that have a specialized vocabulary. While you may be able to visualize what you need (e.g., parts to fix your toilet leak), you have to be able to explain it to them in terms that they can map to these industry terms (e.g., flapper valve) in order to be successful.

Some of the same tactics that you'd use to identify the correct part can be applied to developing your library search terms.

  1. Tap your existing knowledge of the field. If you're familiar with the language used by the discipline, brainstorm what terms best summarize the question that you're trying to answer. Use your course readings to identify terms that you can use. Be sure to consider synonyms and alternates.
  2. Search the web. Use Google, Wikipedia, and other web sources to try to tap into the specialized vocabulary, identifying terms that you can use to search the library databases.
  3. Use AI. When searching a new topic that you're not familiar with, ChatGPT does a pretty good job of giving you basic search terms, provided that you construct a good prompt (see below). Do not use AI to ask for article/material recommendations, though. It will often make up non-existent works--a concept called AI hallucination.ChatGPT prompt seeking search terms.
  4. Ask the experts. Work with your instructor or a librarian to identify search terms for your topic.

Joining search terms: An introduction to Boolean searching

Get Research Help

Use 24/7 live chat below or:

In-person Help Summer 2024 Mon-Thur, 11am - 3pm

Email or phone replies

Appointments with librarians

 Access Library and Research Help tutorials

Online Learning Librarian

Profile Photo
Bill Marino
103g Halle Library
(734) 487-2514