Frequently asked questions 5 – How and where to find search terms?


  • Where do the search terms come from?
  • How can I know which words I should use in searching?
  • Where can I find search terms?

The words you use as search terms can come from:

  • your brain; what words do you use to talk or to write about your topic?
  • dictionaries; especially when you need to check the spelling; you can use e.g. the MOT online dictionaries (authentication needed)
  • handbooks and textbooks; especially when you want to check the definition
  • the books and articles you have already found; what terms and expressions do they use?
  • thesauri; the controlled vocabularies of the databases, for example MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) that is used in many health related databases in indexing the contents

It is worth the time and the effort to pay attention to choosing your search terms, as well as thinking about how to combine them. That will save you time (and nerves) later. One might want just to write them down, someone else likes to draw a mind map, and another one organises them in a chart. Choose your own style.

mind map image

By: Tuulevi Ovaska, Head of Services, Kuopio University Hospital Medical Library, University of Eastern Finland Library