Keywords are the cornerstone of most database searches. A keyword search looks for matching words in titles, descriptions, abstracts, and other descriptive information. Sometimes the author provides keywords; the database will also assign subject headings (a controlled list of terms) to aid in searching.
Some ideas to get you brainstorming keywords:
Maintaining a record of your search is is a good way to ensure the completeness of your research. A systematic strategy of recording searches helps you to assess the changes to your searches as your research progresses, and it helps others replicate your searches for their own systematic reviews of the subject.
Many databases, including SuperSearch, provide features to help you document your searches when logged in. It is worthwhile to create an account in databases to save your searches and set up search alerts.
Saved searches retain the information from searches you've already done. Some databases allow you to export the information from saved searches easily. However, not all databases retain static records of the searches. That is, the results from a search you do today will not be available in a year; the database will perform the same search again, with the most recent available results.
Search alerts notify you when new content is available within your search parameters. This feature can be useful to keep you informed about your research topic while saving you the time of redoing searches every few weeks or months.
In your documentation of the various searches, you'll need to register the following:
In hand-searching (looking through journal contents by hand), take note of the source and the year.
You are probably used to finding information through popular search engines like Google. Web search engines use highly complex algorithms for "natural language searching." You can put in whole sentences or questions, and Google will know what you are searching for.
It's why searches like "which president had a pet alligator" will bring up the correct answer (John Quincy Adams). Google isn't actually searching for the entire phrase. Instead, it identifies the keywords (president, pet, alligator) and eliminates the filler words (which, had). Google also looks for related words (government, animal, crocodile), which is why "which president had a pet crocodile" will still point you to information about John Quincy Adams and his pet alligator—Google assumes that you may be asking the wrong question.
Library databases are different. They assume that you know how to ask the right questions. If you put in filler words like which or had, it will search for those—and only show you search results that include those words. If you look for articles about John Quincy Adams and his crocodile, you won't find anything—because he had an alligator.
Before you start searching in a library database, you need to brainstorm keywords and phrases that describe your topic, and practice using advanced search techniques to eliminate irrelevant results.