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Research Guides

MSE492/498: Design Project / Thesis Project

Identifying keywords for your search queries

Even an abbreviated literature review needs to:

  • Convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic
  • Recognize their strengths and weaknesses
  • Identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • Formulate questions that need further research

There is no one search that will find all the relevant information for your literature review. You will need to try different combinations of search terms to understand the different components of your research topic. 

Find alternate terms for your key concepts:

  • broader, narrower, related terms
  • acronyms
  • plural/singular, spelling variations - use the database tools

It helps to identify the broader and narrower terms associated with your topic. Potential sources include: Google, course materials, encyclopedias, handbooks, and books but there are also tools that can help you.

Thesaurus Searching 

Thesaurus searching (or controlled term searching) uses a built-in list of subject terms terms that are assigned no matter what keywords the author uses. It enables consistency and it is a powerful way to search.

*Not every database uses thesaurus searching*


Combining search terms (Boolean Operators and Wildcards)

Boolean Operators 

To override the default search, use Boolean operators and direct the database to find the combination of information that best matches your search query:

  • Enclose exact phrases in quotation marks (“ ”).
  • AND Finds records that contain both your search terms.
  • OR Finds records that contain at least one of your search terms.
  • NOT Finds records that contain your first search term but not your second.


structural health monitoring = all records with the words structural and health and monitoring

structural health monitoring = all records with the phrase structural health monitoring

structural health monitoring AND (sensor* OR sensing) = all records with the phrase structural health monitoring and at least one of the words sensor* or sensing

Truncation and Wildcards

You can use truncation and wildcards to find the variant endings and spellings of your search terms.

Use the truncation symbol (*) to replace an unlimited number of characters.

  • logarithm* = logarithm, logarithms, logarithmic, logarithmically
  • model*ing = modeling, modelling

Use the wildcard (?) to replace exactly one character. gr?y = gray, gre