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COMM 3700: Empirical Research Methods (Minniear)

Dr. Mack Minniear, Spring 2024

Identifying Keywords

The keywords (search terms) you use can have a profound impact on the results of your research. Using the “right” words will speed up the research process, while the “wrong” words can bring to it to a halt. What are the core concepts of your research?

Before you can begin searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Search terms can be be found by: 

  • Identifying the important concepts in your research questions
  • The text of any books and articles you've already found. (Do they describe the idea you're looking for  in a different, specialized way?)

If you are still struggling:

  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend.


Use AND, OR, and NOT to connect your keywords and tell the database exactly how you want it to search for your terms.  These terms help you combine or exclude words in your search for more relevant results.

Operator Examples Results

cross-cultural AND communication

"social work" AND therapy

Results contain    
ALL of the search terms.


sibling OR brother OR sister


Results contain ANY of the search terms, but not necessarily all of them.

"interpersonal communication" NOT "mass communication"

Excludes results containing
the second search term.

Truncation & Phrase Searching

Truncation or wildcard symbols allow you to look for variations of words. They often broaden your search results.

Example: searching for sport* would bring up variations such as sport, sports, sporting, sporty, etc. 


Note: The truncation symbol is usually an asterisk (*) but can vary by database. Consult the database’s “help” or “search tips” pages for details.

Use quotation marks for phrase searching, i.e. "University of Georgia" 

Note:  searching "communication studies" tells the database to look for these words in this exact order - this phrase, instead of finding communication in one sentence and studies in another.

Search Strategy Builder

This tool is designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. Cut and paste the search string results into the search box of a library database or search engine.

Concept 1 and Concept 2 and Concept 3
Name your concepts here
Search terms Search terms Search terms
List alternate terms for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words, or "short phrases" in quotes













Cut and paste the results above into the search box of a library database or search engine.
Developed by the University of Arizona Libraries and is used under a Creative Commons License.


Hat tip to Lori Micho of JWU Denver Libraries, for letting me borrow and modify content from her Research Process guide.