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PSY - Psychology (WO)

Identify Keywords

To perform searches, you will need keywords.

Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic...


 How do survivors of stressful events regulate intrusive thoughts?

First we'll eliminate irrelevant words.  The databases will search for every word that you type into the searchbox, so try to keep your search simple - just a few words. 

How do survivors of stressful events regulate intrusive thoughts?

When you eliminate the irrelevant words from your research question, you should be able to spot major concepts.  The 2 major concepts in our example are stressful events and intrusive thoughts.

Now, let's take each of those and come up with as many synonyms (or related ideas) as we can.

stressful events – stress, trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, disasters, death, job loss

intrusive thoughts – automatic thoughts, self-talk

Create a Search Strategy

Next, combine any one of the keywords from each group using AND. 


1.      stress AND "intrusive thoughts"

2.      stress AND "automatic thoughts"

3.      Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" AND "intrusive thoughts"

Different combinations of search terms will give you very different results, so you may want to try several different search strategies to see which gives you the best results.

Advanced Searching

Sometimes, advanced search techniques can save you time and get you better results than a simple search with two keywords and AND.

To create an advanced search strategy...

  • Use AND to connect concepts. AND finds both terms, so a search for stress AND intrusive thoughts returns articles that talk about both.
  • Use OR to look for synonyms or related ideas.  OR looks for either term, so a search for "intrusive thoughts" OR "automatic thoughts" will return results that talk about either of these related ideas.
  • Use NOT to specify words that should not be included in the article.
  • Use quotation marks [“ “] to search for phrases.
  • Use an asterisk [*] for truncation. For example, use child* to search for child, children or childhood - any word that begins with c-h-i-l-d.

Finally, you can combine these techniques to create an advanced strategy.  You may have to try several searches to see what works best for your topic.

Example 1:  stress* AND "intrusive thoughts" AND child*

Example 2:  "job loss" AND self-talk

Example 3:  stress* AND ("intrusive thoughts" OR "automatic thoughts")

Now, try to form a few search strategies for your own topic!