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Social Work Research: Research Proposal

Brainstorming Key Terms and Variations


Take some time to think about your key terms and how they may appear in a database's search results.

Brainstorm your key terms and consider:

  • Synonyms or terms that mean the same thing.  Think of all of the ways the concept may be written about in the literature.
  • Word endings and word variations.  Databases may need you to enter terms using truncation or wildcard characters in order to retrieve these variations.


  • Veterans: veteran, veterans, military, soldiers, servicemen

  • PTSD: PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder

  • Youth: children, young adults, teens, teenagers, adolescents

Search Strategies

Develop an online search strategy using appropriate Boolean operators, proximity operators, and truncation / wildcard characters.  

  • (Veteran* or military or servicemen) and (PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder)
  • (youth or child* or adolescen*) and foster N2 (transition* or aged out)


Many Ebsco databases include the expander "Apply Equivalent Subjects" that are automatically selected by default when performing unqualified keyword searches.  This may be helpful with relevancy of results and discovery of terms in the established subject headings in the controlled vocabulary.

Refining Your Search with Limiters


Each database will include limiters that are specific to the discipline. 

Note: If you are in the habit of searching multiple databases simultaneously, you may be missing out on limiters that are specific to individual databases.


For example, in the PsycInfo database, here are recommended limiter helpful to this specific assignment:

  • References available
  • Academic journals
  • Publication date 
  • Methodology (meta analysis, quantitative study, qualitative study)

Additional PsycInfo limiters that may apply to your particular search include:

  • Language
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Population


  • Publication type (meta analysis)
  • Material type (academic journals)
  • Geography (United States)


  • Material type (academic journals)
  • Publication type (meta analysis, systematic review)