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Research Process: Combine Terms

Break your topic into keyterms; map terms to subject headings; use AND/OR to combine searches. Learn the difference between peer reviewed & scholarly sources.

Video on combining key terms

Learn to combine terms by selecting And vs. Or - Watch this video by Zach Sharrow 

Combine your search terms

Now you'll need to combine some terms. Use the terms AND, OR, NOT between your search terms.



  • Either A or B
  • Expands your search
  • Retrieves more results
  • Use for synonyms


  • Narrows your search
  • Refines your results - fewer results
  • Use when each term represents a separate concept

Combine terms for your topic

Remember our topic from the tab Visualize Your Topic:

"What are therapists' attitudes towards Alcoholics Anonymous and spirituality?"

Venn diagram with topics

Anything within a bubble should be combined with OR because each bubble should contain only similar terms.

Any combination between bubbles should be combined with AND to see the intersection of the various terms.

You might start by only combining the top terms you like a database, and then only expanding to other, related, terms, if needed.

There might not be any articles written on your particular topic, though! Remember, your topic is the very tiny intersection between all the bubbles! So, if you combine all terms and get zero useful results, try looking at the combination of just 2 or 3 of the bubbles.Then do a separate search for another 2 of the bubbles, etc. 

NOTE: You do not have find every part of your topic in each resource. You can make the connections between the resources in your paper.