A mind map can help you figure out your topic and can help you think up keywords. Start with a broad topic and think of more specific topics related to the broad one--topics that branch from a central one. You can even have other concepts branching off the subtopics, such as in the example below. Cats is the main, central theme, with cats as hunters as a related topic branching off, and impacts on bird populations branching off that one. You could have a second related topic coming off cats as hunters for impacts on rodent populations. This can help you brainstorm ideas for a research topic; for instance, is it cruel to confine pets cats indoors all the time, rather than to let them roam?
You can use a mind map generator to help you with your own brainstorming; there are several free ones available online.
Credo Reference has built-in mind maps that allow you to search for a broad topic and it creates a map for you. You can view a Credo mind map in action in the video tutorial How to use the Mind Map on Credo on the CredoReferenceVideos YouTube channel.
Selecting and Using Keywords by Joshua Vossler, PALNI
Choosing the right words for a search can take a lot of practice. The link above is a video explanation of one way to find keywords--words you can use to form a good search strategy. Once you have some keywords, you can determine what types of sources you need and structure a search. The key is specificity--words that are precise enough to get you exactly what you want.
Even with a lot of specific words, it can be difficult to find what you're looking for. Finding the "perfect article" may be impossible for some very specific topics because one article isn't usually enough to cover all aspects of your own topic. Often, you have to search pairs of keywords, finding a little research on each pair, and then combine the research into one cohesive paper or project. This video, One Perfect Source? from North Carolina State University Libraries, will give you a visual idea of how to do this.
Did your keywords give you one really good source, but your instructor says you need more for the assignment? There's a way you can use that one good source to refine your keywords to give you the chance to score more sources. Here's how to do it:
Wind farms are controversial in part because of the potential impacts on wildlife. While most people think birds, some have turned their attentions to bats as well. What research is out there on bats and wind farms? Let's see how many full text, scholarly articles we can find on wind farms and bats:
One result--not very promising. But the Subjects area includes some words we can use to refine our search and maybe come up with some more articles. Wind power plants and wind turbines both look promising, so let's use those. And maybe, since bat deaths may be too specific--do wind turbines harm bats in other ways?--we should just go with bats. Our search is now wind turbines and bats, and the results are much better!
We have 59 options now; there should be enough research here to do a good paper or project on how wind turbines impact bats, and using the subject headings to come up with alternate keywords really worked well!
There may be times when you want or need to use subject headings to get the best results, and you may be asking, "Can I find subject headings without doing a keyword search?" The answer is usually yes. Some database companies, like EBSCO and ProQuest, include ways to find specific subject headings. Subject terms that are standardized are called controlled vocabulary, and they help group articles with the same topics together in a search. Looking for the words "thesaurus", "subject terms", "subject headings", or similar are good clues that looking up subject terms is just a click away. Sometimes, you have to go to an advanced search to look for controlled vocabulary. Here's an example of what comes up if I search for the subject term garbage:
Lots of options are in this screenshot, including waste management, garbage analysis programme, trash as art material, and garbage as feed. This is only a small sampling of the terms that came up. To see this in action, watch How to Use the Thesaurus in Online Databases from the Fogler Library Reference YouTube channel.