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Getting Started

Break down your topic into keywords

A good approach is to break down your topic or question into different parts. What are the key elements?

Consider the essay question 'Does fast-fashion undermine ethical retail?'

Firstly identify the main concepts.

So, concept 1 is fast-fashion and concept 2 is ethical retail.

number 2 iconIdentify synonyms and similar terms: 

If you do a search with just these two terms you run the risk of missing out on valuable material, so you need to expand your search. Finding other words which are similar and adding these to your search strategy is a way of doing this.

Its a very good idea to write these terms out in a table. This will help when you come to enter the these terms into a database.


Fast- Fashion


Ethical Retail

Cheap fashion Ethical consumption
Primark Business ethics
Sweat shops Fair trade
Green consumerism
Corporate ethics

It can be difficult to think of alternative words for your search terms. In some cases, there may not be an alternate. The following suggestions can help you develop your keywords.

A thesaurus can be helpful as can subject specific dictionaries.

Put some keywords into Google Scholar or Onesearch to find some examples of articles on your topic. Have a quick scan through and note any re-occurring words or themes in the titles and abstracts.

Most databases have a searchable thesaurus.

This short video from the University of Sheffield shows how to select and combine keywords and synonyms, and re-use the results from your search history.

The next section will show you how to enter these terms into a database to find articles.

Want to find out more?

SMILE is a great online information and digital literacy training package which provides detailed advice on all types of researching skills.