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Business Source Complete: Keyword searching

Selecting keywords (search terms)

When you enter keywords (search terms) in Business Source Complete, the database searches for your keywords across the titles and abstracts (summaries) of articles and other documents. To find a good range of relevant literature, it's important to think carefully about your keywords before you search. To help you do this, please follow these steps:

  1. Identify the words/keywords in your assignment title (or research question) that are most relevant to your topic (i.e. identify those words that distinguish the title from any other title). For an example, let's consider the following question: "To what extent does microfinance facilitate the empowerment of women in developing countries". Generally, it's best to ignore generic words such as "facilitate" or "impact". Using our example, you might identify the following keywords: microfinance, empowerment, women.
  2. Think of each keyword as a separate concept (or sub-theme) within the overall theme of your topic. Then, for each concept, identify any alternative words that have the same/similar meaning. For inspiration, you could consider the types of terms used in lectures and textbooks. Also consider words that have opposite meanings (e.g. inequality in relation to equality). Different authors may use different words to describe the same concept and if your keywords don't reflect this range of terminology, you may miss important search results. Here's a list of keywords, organised by concept, for the above search example (it's not an exhaustive list):

Concept 1

microfinance micro-finance microcredit micro-credit  
Concept 2 empowerment autonomy independence human rights equality
Concept 3 women female feminist    

Entering keywords

Business Source Complete: keywords entered into search fields.

  • Don't change the AND setting: note the screenshot above. If your topic contains multiple concepts (e.g. microfinance AND empowerment AND women), enter your set of keywords for each individual concept in a separate search box. To display an additional search box, click the + (plus) button just below the search boxes. The default setting in between each search box should be AND - don't change this if you want each of your search results to cover all of the concepts that you've identified. Once you have entered all of your search terms, click Search.
  • Entering search terms using OR: If you have identified multiple alternative keywords for the same concept, enter the word or in between each one e.g. microfinance or micro-finance or microcredit or micro-credit. Otherwise, the database limits your search results to those that only feature ALL of the alternative keywords you enter.
  • Entering phrases: it's generally a good idea to enter these in "speech marks" (e.g. "human rights") so that Business Source Complete only searches for the exact phrase. Otherwise, the database searches for all the individual words in a phrase which can produce too many irrelevant search results.
  • Peer-reviewed option: You can select the peer-reviewed option further down the screen on the left-hand side - this limits your results to those from peer-reviewed journals (and other publications). These are journals in which an article, submitted by an author, is appraised by other academic researchers and is only permitted for publication if it meets various quality standards. However, be cautious (particularly if you're a management student): Harvard Business Review is a highly respected title but it is not peer-reviewed so you may prefer to limit your results by selecting publication type/academic journals instead.
  • Limit options: Below the search boxes, there are various options for limiting or expanding your search.  For example, you can limit by date but be cautious - some older documents might still be relevant and cited in more up-to-date literature.  Other limit options include publication type (academic journal, conference paper, Government document, Review and others). and document type (article, book chapter, case study, health report and others). Be cautious about selecting 'also search within the full-text of articles'. While this option may prove useful if little has been written on your topic, it could retrieve an unmanageable number of irrelevant results! 

    Business Source Complete: some of the options for limiting a search.



After your search, you can return to the limit options by clicking the Advanced Search link just below your search boxes. 

Searching for different endings / spellings of the same word

  • Plural versions: Business Source Complete automatically searches for both the singular and plural versions of a word in singular form, so if you enter corporation it will also search for corporations
  • Truncation: sometimes you can increase the number of your results by entering an asterisk at the end of the stem of a word e.g. if you just enter microfinanc*, the database searches for these:

  • US spellings: Business Source Complete searches for both the UK and US variant spellings of some, but not all words. For example, If you enter behaviour, it also searches for behavior.  However, if you search for analyse, it doesn't find analyze as well. 

    If you're uncertain as to how Business Source Complete will handle an English spelling, replace the relevant letter with a question mark. For example, analy
    ?e - the database will then retrieve both versions of the word.

Proximity Searching

  • Proximity searches enable you to limit your search to titles and abstracts in which two or more keyword appear in close proximity. This can be useful if there several similar versions of the same phrase exist e.g. corporate social responsibility, socially responsible corporation, corporation demonstrating social responsibility... 
  • To run a proximity search, enter the capital letter N followed by the maximum number of words you want appearing between your keywords .eg. N2, N5, N10 etc. For example, if you might want the keywords "training" and "strength" to appear in close proximity within the space of 5 or fewer words, enter: 
    corporat* N5 "social* responsib*"

  • If you have a set of multiple alternative keywords that need to appear in close proximity to another keyword/set, enter the multiple keywords within a set of brackets as follows: 
    (corporat* or business*) N10 ("social* responsib*" or "social* aware*")