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Bundle - Assignment Resources

Library research resources for English Comp. Intro to Psychology, and Intro to Sociology

Create a List of Search Terms (and Alternates) for Your Topic

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Figuring out the right search terms is a key part of conducting an effective search whether you are using library databases or searching the web. The process for developing good search terms is the same for both


How do I know what words to enter into a Search Box?

You may be assigned a topic to research or you may be asked to choose your own. Your topic will be your starting point in choosing search terms.note-taking icon

  • Types of search terms: 
    • keywords - a general list words related to your topic.
    • subject searches - words listed or bolded database lists
      • nouns - the names of something or someone -- people, things, places
        •  example - nouns for a topic in psychology: "depression,"  "bipolar disorder," "schizophrenia."
  • Make a list of main search terms 
  • Create a list of alternate search termssynonyms (different words that mean the same thing)
    • WHY? Different authors will use different terms that mean the same thing so If you can't find enough information using one search term, another
    • Consult a Thesaurus to find related or alternative words or synonyms.  

Searching for Psychology Resources

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Psychology Search Terms


In a straightforward basic search simply type in the name of the psychological condition you plan to research:

  • schizophrenia 
  • bipolar disorder
  • anxiety
  • addiction
  • personality disorder

Some words, like "depression" can refer to a person's mental health or to the Great Depression, the economic period of the 1930s. In that case you can clarify your search by adding the term "mental health."

  • depression and mental health

You can further clarify a condition like a specific anxiety disorder by also adding words:

  • social anxiety
  • generalized anxiety disorder

You can try to search for terms in initials /or the longer form:

  • PTSD
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • OCD
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

Sometimes you can try two terms that mean the same thing:

  • self-injury
  • self-harm

You can try a combination of terms:

  • depression and anxiety
  • narcissistic personality disorder
  • borderline personality disorder

Combining multiple search terms in a single search string  is a type of advanced search that saves time.

For example,  instead of doing two searches, one for "narcissistic personality disorder" and a second one for "borderline personality disorder" you can find information for both by setting up this advanced search string:

  • (narcissistic OR borderline) personality disorder

In this search string you are telling the database to bring back articles about either narcissistic OR borderline personality disorders. As you skim the results you can compare them to see similarities or differences and make a decision about which to pursue further or it you would like to research both.

Short Video: Using Western Library's Databases

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NOTE: You will be asked to login with your Western ID when you link to the library databases. For short tutorials about individual databases, check out our Database Intro Guide, linked below.

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