Aging & the Life Course

Synonyms are One Challenge of Vocabulary

Think about the many ways a subject or topic can be expressed:

aged, elderly, older people, older adults, senior citizens ...
films, movies, cinema, motion pictures, videos ...

We can't always know all the terms for a topic in advance, especially if we are new to the area of study, so be alert for synonyms in database records and search results!

Most search tools, unlike Google, only search for exactly the words you type in. If you type in the search term 'aged', the database will display items that include the word 'aged' but not items that use other synonyms, such as elderly, older people, etc.

Keywords for searching

Generating Keywords When Exploring a Topic

After you have identified a general topic and generated some questions about it, you are ready to explore what has been published related to your questions. To explore what has been published, you will need to discover what words authors have used in titles and keywords, and what words databases have used when tagging or assigning subject headings to articles. 

Do some exploratory searches to discover more search terms to try.

Remember, there is almost never one perfect search.  Keep trying different combinations of terms to explore what is available.  Notice how many results you are getting, and whether the results seem to be relevant. 

Use your growing knowledge about what scholars seem to be researching to narrow and refine your questions. 

When you find a highly relevant article, look closely at the subject terms and the keywords in title and abstract in order to find similar articles.

Example:   You have decided that you want to explore what has been written about ageism and caregiving.

So, how big a topic is this?  We try a search in ESearch for those terms, ageism AND caregiving. Hmm, not bad, but we look at some previews and make some guesses, and try this search:  (ageism OR "age discrimination") AND (caregiving OR caretakers) to get a larger results set.

Notice that we searched ONLY for nouns or descriptive words. We do not use words that are about value, quality, or cause/effect/impact; and we generally avoid verbs when searching.

We can look at some of the subject headings listed under "more" on the left-hand column, or explore the previews of some of the titles. It can take a while to get a feel for how people have been writing about the subject and how it is subdivided.

We start listing more keywords to try, such as "aging stereotypes" or "elder abuse" or "frail elderly" or "adult day care" and so on.

Now we experiment with more searches.  We find an article titled "Subliminal Strengthening: Improving Older Individuals' Physical Function Over Time With an Implicit-Age-Stereotype Intervention."  Now we use the abstract, subject terms and references in that article to identify more keywords and more articles of interest.  The database that hosts this article also offers a "related articles" list, with more options to explore.

Social Sciences Librarian

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Suzanne Gray
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