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Basic Composition and Reading (ENGL 50 - Herold)

Use this guide to master skills you'll need to complete Erin Herold's final essay.

Why is Terminology So Important?

Once you've created some preliminary research questions, you can begin to search for answers.  Today’s research tools  -- including online library catalogs, online databases, and Web search engines like Google -- require you to type some words in a box to begin searching for information. 

Some search tools use a Subject Headings or controlled vocabulary, which are formally established terms to represent the content of all the books or articles included in the research tool. Others offer Keyword Searching, – words drawn from the full text of articles.  Some tools allow for both types of searching. 

Whatever kind of tool you use – and whatever kind of search you perform -- you will save time and effort by generating a list of good search terms before embarking on your research. Like your list of research questions, you can expect this list to keep growing.

The brief video below describes the differences between these two types of searches very well.

How Do I Begin?

I.  Break down your focused topic and identify the main concepts involved.

 Sample Focused Topic: How can stem cells be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease? 

Concept one

stem cells

Concept two


Concept three

Alzheimer’s disease


II. Brainstorm synonyms for each concept.

When brainstorming synonyms, think about how other people might describe these concepts. What words would a reporter use? How about a scientist or doctor? Often using more scholarly terms will retrieve more scholarly resources.  Think of exact synonyms, as well as slightly narrower (more specific) or broader (more general) terms. 

stem cells

stem cells; embryonic stem cells; neural stem cells


treatment; cure; therapy; benefits;

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s  disease; dementia, diseases; disorders


III. Brainstorm alternative terms:

Even small differences between terms you use and terms the database recognizes will affect the success of searches. Therefore, to create a successful search be sure to brainstorm for alternative spellings, abbreviations, and multiple endings. 

Alternate spellings

Alzheimers    Alzheimer’s “Alzheimer patients”



Multiple endings

treatment    treatments    treating    treat