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ENSC 801: Methodological and Conceptual Basis for Environmental Studies

Worksheet: Concepts and Keywords

Systematic Reviews: Search Methods

Environmental Evidence publishes systematic reviews and protocols.  Check the articles for good examples of information search methodology.

Topic Concepts and Keywords

Example Topic Statement: For your literature review, identify a climate change mitigation or adaptation strategy that another city has adopted that might be usefully adopted in Kingston. (This statement is from ENSC 430.)

This topic can be broken into several concepts:

  1. Climate change
  2. Mitigation or adaptation strategies
  3. City (not rural)

When using search engines or library databases, choose the search keywords based on your concepts.  This is where you choose synonyms to describe your topics.  For example,

  1. climate change, global warming
  2. mitigation, adaptation
  3. city, urban

Next, you need to translate your keywords into language that a database recognizes.  Here are several strategies:

  • Place quotation marks around two or more words that you would like to keep together as a phrase.  For example, "climate change".
  • Use * to truncate a word.  For example, mitigat* will look for mitigation, mitigating, mitigated, mitigate.
  • A concept can be described by more than one word.  Use the operator OR to gather all the records that have either keyword.  For example, city OR urban.  You can place these within parentheses to isolate a single concept: (city OR urban).

As you search, you want to look for records that have all the concepts.  Use the operator AND to join the different concepts.

Here's what a final search string could look like:

("climate change" OR "global warming") AND (mitigat* OR adapt*) AND (city OR urban)

Here's the search in the Geobase/Georef databases.  Note that the search fields act as parentheses.

geobase search

There can be a lot of variation with this method.  Usually, you want to try some preliminary searches just to get a sense of what keywords are being used.  The search used above is looking for any mitigation strategies, and may be too broad.  You may instead want look for specific mitigation strategies and use their specific keywords for a smaller set of results.  A good strategy is to start with a very general, broad search, and check the filtering menu on results page.  Look for a filter like "subject heading" or "subject" or "controlled vocabulary".  This is an excellent source of synonyms, and also a good way to narrow down your search.

Here's the filter menu in Geobase/Georef:


In this menu, you'll find the controlled vocabulary section:

Mitigation is one of the categories - you can limit your results list to just this category and scan the results to find more specific keywords.