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Argument and research: Search words and strategies

A guide for researching argument writing and speech assignments

Identify your search words

checkmarkMake a list of search words

To begin a search successfully, you muse use a variety of words that related to your topic.

  • Think of the different words and phrases that people use when they discuss your topic.
  • Consider broader and narrower words, and synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
  • Identify search words through your background research or ask a librarian for help in finding words that are used in your field of research.

Image Source: Tick icons created by Kiranshastry - Flaticon

Search smart!

Tick icons created by Kiranshastry - FlaticonDevelop efficient strategies to search for books, articles and websites 

  • Searching is CREATIVE - use synonyms or different search words to find the sources you need
  • LEARN as you search - keep your eyes open for new words or terminology that you find in your sources (book, article or website results).  Use this new search vocabulary for your next search
  • Be a DETECTIVE- if you find a good source, dig deeper and explore any links or other suggested resources.  These will lead you to more information
  • Look in MORE THAN ONE PLACE - use all the search tools available to you, such as the library catalog, library databases, and the internet
  • DON'T STOP after one or two tries - if you can't find what you need, ask a librarian for help

Image Source: Tick icons created by Kiranshastry - Flaticon

Helpful search strategies

Library database search strategies the words, tips and tricks, and a check box icon

  1. Boolean operators
    • When searching the library catalog, databases, or the internet, AND / OR / NOT help you broaden or narrow your search results:
  2. Truncation
    • Use truncation symbols (usually ? or *) in library catalogs and databases to capture all forms of words (forest* will retrieve forest, forests, forester, forested, foresting).
  3. Keep it simple
    • Keep searches simple using basic search words.

    • Example:  Search on body image women rather than how does body image affect women in the United States?

  4. Try different keywords 
    • Use a variety of search words. 
    • For example, try different searches to find different results:
      • body image women
      • self image women 
      • personal appearance women
      • anorexia women
      • body image teenagers
      • ...etc.
  5. Use advanced search features
    • Become a power internet searcher! 
    • For example, use the advanced search in Google, linked below, to get better results from your internet searches

Brainstorm keywords

How to brainstorm:

  1. State your research question/topic
    • Example: "How do cigarette companies target children with their advertising?"
  2. Extract main concepts:
      cigarettes children advertising
  3. Brainstorm key words:







      smokeless tobacco


      smoking industry

      big tobacco















      television spots

      product placement

Keywords can be:

  • synonyms
  • related terms
  • broader ideas
  • narrower ideas
  • alternate spellings
  • specific examples
  • abbreviations or acronyms

Your own brainstorming chart

download icon

Use a chart for your brainstorming

Click below to download your own "Search Word Brainstorming Chart."

Keep this chart with you to help you search more effectively!

Video tutorial: Boolean Operators, AND / OR / NOT

Watch this short video (3 mins!) about Boolean operators and how they are used in search engines like Google and in library databases.

Source: "Boolean Operators" by Emily Wixson, Standard YouTube license

CC BY SA license

Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content, with credit to TCC Library. When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Tacoma Community College Library and shared with a CC BY SA 4.0 license.

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