SOCL 647 Contemporary Community Structure

Identifying more search terms

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 terms* to articles. 

There is almost never one perfect search!  Keep trying different combinations of terms to explore what is available. 

How do you know if you should try a different word combination?  Notice how many results you are getting, and whether the results seem to be relevant to your question.

As you search, use your growing knowledge about what is published 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 your topic is e-commerce in China and its implications for business

So, how big a topic is this?  We try a search in ESearch for ecommerce AND china.    Look at the results - how many? Over 10,000?  OK.. that's too broad a topic!

Now look at the Subject terms on the left column of the search page.  There are many terms we might want to explore, including

  • “electronic commerce” (using "quotation marks" to make a phrase)
  • “electronic banking”
  • ...and a lot more.....

We realize that our topic is still too loose, not focused enough.  We decide to focus on retail.  We try this search:  “electronic commerce” AND china AND retail

Looking at the subjects, we see more options, including:

  • “consumer behavior"
  • "retailing industry"
  • "online shopping"
  • "market strategy"

Now we experiment with more searches.  We find an article titled "Structural Change in China's Retail Industry in the First Decade of the New Century"  Now we use the 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.


*This guide from Virginia Tech explains the difference between keywords and subject terms: