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Education Research

Get started with education research

4. Choose Search Terms

Search terms

Next, let’s talk about how to figure out what words to enter in the boxes in your library database. The words you enter are called search terms.

Stop and Think

 How do you think up the words you enter into an everyday Google search?

Search terms are important

The search terms you use in a library database like Education Source can make or break your research. Search terms help you find articles that are relevant to your topic. It can be hard to know what search terms to use.

You try it: make a list

Make your list search terms:

  1. Get a piece of scrap paper.
  2. Write a sentence about your research topic.
  3. Next, circle the most important words from this sentence. These are your main search terms. You could stop now and type these into the search boxes in a database, or in Google, but to be a good researcher, you need to take extra steps:
  4. Now, for each important word, come up with at least one synonym.
  5. Then, for each important word, come up with at least one narrower word or phrase.
  6. Finally, for each important word, come up with at least one more broad word or phrase.
  7. Try them! Enter your search terms in a library database, such as Education Source or PsycINFO.


You can watch this 30-second silent video to see an example.


You can use your list of search terms in databases like Education Source. Try out different combinations of words, filters, and limiters.

Education Source advanced search

For example:

  1. Search for these terms in the article abstract: "early childhood education" or preschool 
  2. And search for these terms in the title of the article: "music education" or "music learning"
  3. And search for these terms in the article abstract: "academic success" or achievement

Librarian Tip

 Librarians are skilled at helping students come up with search terms. You can live-chat [link opens in new tab] with us. Try entering: "Hi, I need help generating search terms for my research project."


You're almost done. Just a little more information for you—5. Finishing up

Last Updated: Sep 7, 2023 5:13 PM