Broadening or narrowing search terms

For each concept it is important to consider broader and narrower terms that may extend or limit the search. These may be useful for extending very specific terms, or limiting those where too many results are retrieved. An example might be a search that requires Australian data. The location ‘Australia’ could be narrowed to a particular state if a large number of results are retrieved. A search may be broadened by choosing a more general term and ‘exploding’ to include all its associated sub-terms. Methods for expanding and narrowing searches including ‘explode’ and ‘focus’ are covered in more detail in Module 3.

Related terms are those linked to the search terms by subject matter. For example, terms related to pregnancy might be prenatal care, pseudopregnancy, foetal, maternal-fetal relations, and pregnant women. These related terms may also be useful for text word searching (searching for the exact term).

Alternative spellings

To capture all results in a text word search, you need to include alternative spellings and abbreviations. US spellings will vary at times from Australian, for example, behavior (US) and behaviour (Australian), organization (US) and organisation (Australian). Accepted abbreviations such as ‘UK‘ should be included in addition to ‘the United Kingdom‘. Some databases will allow for plurals such as party/parties, but others will not. It is best to include alternative spellings in the search unless the database does so automatically.

Mind maps

Mind maps or tables may be helpful to identify alternative search terms that could be used in your search.

Mind maps will suit those who like to create spider diagrams and work with paper and pencil.

Here is one type of a mind map:

An example mind map
An example mind map

If you would like to know more about Mind Mapping and techniques for creating mind maps, follow this link to Mind Mapping with Tony Buzan. [6]

Concept tables

Concept tables are another method for developing alternative search terms. They are useful as shared electronic documents for recording search strategies, and can be added to over time.

Example of a concept table

Try printing out and filling in the empty boxes to test your understanding, or replicate the table for your own use.

Question: ‘Does fluoride help prevent tooth decay in children?’

Concepts Fluoride Tooth decay Children
Synonyms     Child
    School age
    Young people
Broader terms     Humans
Narrower     Boys under 5 years
Related terms     Families
    Dietary habits
Alternative spellings     School-age
    School age