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Brainstorming Topics and Search Terms

Choosing search terms

The search terms you use will impact the results you find! Start by brainstorming potential search terms. A few things to consider:

  • What are your keywords? Keywords are words that describe the main idea of your topic. These are often found in the research question or topic statement itself.
  • Are there any synonyms? Synonyms are words that have a similar meaning to the main keywords. Consider if there are other ways of saying the same thing. 
  • Are there any related terms? Related terms are words that describe concepts that are related to the main research topic. They don’t mean exactly the same thing as the synonyms or keywords, but may be useful in expanding or redirecting the search.

Examples of brainstorming search terms

Brainstormed search terms for the topic: How are mobile phones used to facilitate learning in post-secondary classes? Search term ideas: mobile phones, cell phones, smartphones, smart phones, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy. Post secondary, higher education, college, university. Learning, teaching, education, academic practices.

 These images show brainstorming examples of potential search terms (keywords, synonyms, and related terms) for a few topics. Can you think of any other search terms for these examples?

Brainstormed search terms for the topic: What impact has COVID-19 had on food supply chains? Search term ideas: COVID-19, covid, coronavirus, pandemic, food, agricultural goods, groceries, vegetables, dairy, meat, (or other specific foods), supply chains, logistics, shipping, transportation, distribution.

 These images show brainstorming examples of potential search terms (keywords, synonyms, and related terms) for a few topics. Can you think of any other search terms for these examples?

Question: How does divorce impact a child's development? Search terms: Divorce, divorced parents, separation. Child, children, youth. Development, social, emotional, cognitive, speech and language, physical.

 These images show brainstorming examples of potential search terms (keywords, synonyms, and related terms) for a few topics. Can you think of any other search terms for these examples?

Question: What is the price of health care for the elderly in Canada? Search terms: Price, cost, budget. Health Care, OHIP, medical services, health care system. Elderly: senior citizens, ageing population, old age. Canada, Canadian

 These images show brainstorming examples of potential search terms (keywords, synonyms, and related terms) for a few topics. Can you think of any other search terms for these examples?

In the next section of this tutorial (Give it a try! Choosing search terms), complete the brainstorming worksheet to develop a list of search terms for your research topic.
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