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CHEM221/222: Organic Chemistry: Search Tips

A guide to resources for Dr. Craig's Organic Chemistry class.

Subject Terms

Don't forget subject terms!

There can be many ways to label the same thing, particularly in the sciences. This is a problem when you're searching. Which name do you search for? When in doubt, use Subject Terms. 

Subject Terms or Subject Headings are keywords that librarians or other specialists have agreed are the way to find records on a certain topic, despite the various words the authors may have used to describe it. Catalogers apply these terms to records, weather or not the author used that exact word or phrase when writing. Click on subject terms in a record to do a search for that specific term. Using subject terms is also a great way to find more resources similar to one you like!

MeSh terms follow the same idea.


Keep it simple.

Before you start your search, come up wtih a few terms that describe your topic. Unlike searching in Google, searching in the library databases requires more precise planning for your search terms. This is because Google searches through millions and millions of webpages, whereas the library databases only search through thousands of articles, and most of the time just a record of the article, not the full-text article. Because of this, you'll want to distill your topic to only the words that really captures the meaning of your topic, so you don't have extraneous words clogging your search results. Translate the concepts in your research question into individual words.

Main point:

  • keep it simple, try to use only 1-2 word phrases

How is the rise of social media linked to the visibility of eating disorders?

  • eating disorders
  • social media
How was JFK's foreign policy influenced by his religious faith?
  • John F. Kennedy
  • foreign policy
  • religious beliefs
Are sex education programs effective in reducing teen pregnancy rates?
  • teen pregnancy
  • sex education

Think Broad and Narrow:

When thinking of search terms for your research topic, its best to think of a combination of broad and narrow search terms. That way, when you perform a search and don't get enough results, you can go back and search with the broader terms, or vise versa if your search brings back to many results. In general, you should use your broader search terms when searching for books, and more narrow search terms when searching for articles.

Gather related words and synonyms:

The books and articles you're researching for may use different words to describe your research topic. Therefore, you'll want to think of as many different related terms and synonyms as you can for the concepts in your research topic.  If you vary your search terms, you'll also be casting a wider net for sources than just using the same terms over and over again. You may discover search terms that you didn't know about before.

Tips for coming up with keywords:

  • Use a Thesaurus
  • Go back to your concept map and background research to gather ideas
  • Do a preliminary search, and see what vocabulary the relevant articles on your topic use.

Boolean Searching for Lycopene Synthesis

The circles above represent the records in a database available with two key words, Lycopene and Synthesis. Some records only have one key word, others have both. 

If you connect your search terms with the Boolean operator AND, you might think you are making your search result pool larger, but you're actually shrinking it, because you are asking the database to only return records that include both words. You'll want to use the AND operator when connecting two parts of your research question. You don't just want information on Lycopene, you would have to wade through too many results to find the ones you want, those that deal with lycopene synthesis. 

The OR operator sounds like it should exclude results, but it doesn't. In fact, using OR is a great way to get more results when you are having a hard time finding what you need. Usually, you'll use OR for two keywords that describe similar ideas to account for authors using different words for the same idea, like (Lycopene OR "2,6,10,14,19,23,27,31-octamethyl-2,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20,22,24,26,30-dotriacontatridecaene").

We don't use the NOT operator very often, but it can come in very handy. Sometimes, the keyword you are using is used so often with an idea unrelated to your research question that you are swamped in unrelated results and can't find the information you need. When that happens, look through the false records to find the offending idea, and exclude that keyword(s) from your search.

Subject Guide

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Anaya Jones
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