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ME 4701: Capstone Design

Information and resources for Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design.

Keywords and Search Techniques

Defining Keywords

Synonyms and Word Variations

Different sources or individuals may refer to concepts, objects, etc. by the common name, technical or scientific jargon, or abbreviation. To be as comprehensive as possible in your searches, it is helpful to develop a list of alternative keywords.

For example, if you are searching for information on drones, your list may look like

  • drone (common name)
  • unmanned aerial vehicle (technical name)
  • UAV (abbreviation)

If you are interested in robotics (the study), it can also be beneficial to search for robot or robots (the object). This is achieved by looking for the stem of the word (i.e., robot) and all its variations (i.e., robots, robotics). Many research tools will automatically search for word variations but when they do not the search technique, truncation (see search techniques below), can help.

Hierarchical Structure

Depending upon the search tool, you may have to increase or decrease the number of search results by using broader or narrower search terms. Thinking about where your topic fits into a hierarchy can help. For example, if you are interested in stationary robots the hierarchy would be:

  1. Robots
    1. Stationary
      1. Cartesian
      2. Spherical
      3. Cylindrical
      4. SCARA
      5. And so on
    2. Wheeled
    3. And so on


Search Techniques

Search tools will by default search a string of words as phrases or as if the words are ANDed. This greatly impacts the kind of results you will see. If you search for the words

use of drones in surveillance

and the search tool automatically searches as a phrase, any results will have those five words in that order next to each other (thus result in fewer results). If the search tool by default ANDs words, it can have use, drones, and surveillance (of and in will most likely be ignored) anywhere in the title, abstract, keywords, etc. (and there should be more results).

Phrase Searching

If a concept, object, or topic is expressed as two or more words, use double quotes to search as a phrase.

unmanned aerial vehicle --> "unmanned aerial vehicle"


Some search tools use natural language and others use AND, OR, and NOT to combine search terms.

AND - all terms
e.g., drones AND surveillance

OR - any terms
e.g., drones OR UAV

NOT - excludes a term
e.g., surveillance NOT military

Order of Operation

Using parentheses in a search, like in mathematics, determines what operation is completed first. Usually OR is the lowest operation.

surveillance AND drones OR "unmanned aerial vehicle" OR UAV - will have results that are about surveillance and drones as well as results that are about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) but not necessarily surveillance

surveillance AND (drones OR "unmanned aerial vehicle" OR UAV) - will have results about drones (and its alternative terms) and surveillance, which is a more relevant search

Field Searching

Articles, books, proceedings, etc. can be described by who is their author, what is their title, when were they published, etc. If you have a specific author, title, etc. you want to search, you can select that field from the pull down menu.


Depending on search tool, truncation character may be * (asterisk), ? (question mark), or ! (exclamation point). For example,

robot* will search for robot, robots, and robotics

Some search tools will automatically search for word variations.



If you wanted to research background information for how prosthetic limbs are manufactured as part of your project to develop a mobile prosthetic lab, your research terms and strategy might be:

Keyword terms

  • prosthetic limb, artificial limb
  • manufacturing, equipment, materials, methodology (methods, procedure)

Search Strategy

  • ("prosthetic limb" OR "artificial limb") AND manufacturing
  • ("prosthetic limb" OR "artificial limb") AND materials
Subjects: Engineering