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Fullerton College Library

Research 101: Identifying Search Terms

Getting Started With Research at Fullerton College Library

Identifying Search Terms from a Research Question

#1 - Identify the main ideas in your research question or thesis statement to be tested.

#2 - Jot down similar, related, broader, and narrower terms for the main ideas.

#3 - Apply search terms using the advanced search option (the link is under the basic search box). 

Click through the slides below for examples:

Search Tip Cheat Sheet



Ways to Narrow and Broaden Your Searches


NARROW results BROADEN results

Adding new concepts with AND connector

food waste ] AND consumer education ]

Adding similar or related concepts with OR connector 

recycling OR reusing ]

Search for terms in SUBJECT or TITLE

 [ food industrial waste ] in [ SU Subject Terms ]

Search for terms in ALL TEXT

[ "centralized composting" ] in [ TX All Text ]

Search for multiple words as a phrase with " "

"consumer education"

Search for all variant endings of a word with the symbol

recycl* searches for: recycle, recycled, recycling

Apply database limiters to group results by a particular:



SUBJECT (what article is about)



DELETE a search term to widen focus

 composting instead of [ centralized composting ]


Replace a search term with a BROADER term

social media ] instead of [ facebook ]

Identifying Search Terms from a General Topic

If you are starting your research with a general topic instead of a specific question, consider narrowing your focus by one or more of the following:

  • aspect of the topic 
  • examining the relationship between that and something else 
  • location (e.g., california, high schools)
  • population (e.g., children, college students, men, nurses)
  • racial or cultural group (e.g., african americans, lgbtq+)
  • academic perspective (e.g., psychology, legal, economic, social)

Examples for the topic: mental health

  • aspect of the topic: depression or anxiety
  • relationship between: how discrimination impacts one's mental health
  • racial or cultural group: LGBTQ+

Possible search terms and similar terms:

  • mental health or depression or anxiety
  • discrimination or prejudice
  • lgbtq 

Applied in an advanced search:

screenshot of search

Note: brackets represent search bars

[ mental health or depression or anxiety ]

AND [ discrimination or prejudice ]

AND [ lgbtq ]