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CHEM6611: Scientific Communication in Chemistry


3b. Building Blocks

Overview of library resources supporting graduate research

Break Down Your Search

Example: amine functionalization by photoredox catalysis

A good "building blocks" search requires planning, modification, and repetition. Use a whiteboard, notebook, worksheet, etc. as you design your search strategy.

Start by identifying the individual concepts  or "building blocks" in your search. Think of the concepts as answers to questions like "What?" "How?" "Where and/or when?"

  • amine functionalization
  • photoredox catalysis

Build Your Blocks

For each concept, think of synonyms and variations in spelling or grammar. Consider both more specific and more general terms.

  • amine → amination OR amine OR amino group*
  • functionalization → functionalisation OR functionalization OR functionalised OR functionalized
  • photoredox → "photo redox" OR photochemical OR photoredox OR photoreduction OR ("visible light" AND reduc*), etc.
  • catalysis → cataly* [catalysis OR catalyst* OR catalytic, etc.]
  • photoredox catalysis → photocatal* OR  photoredox catalysis OR redox photocatalysis

Combine Your Blocks

  1. Use OR to combine terms within each concept
("photo redox" OR photoredox OR photoreduction)


  1. Combine the concepts using AND
("photo redox" OR photoredox OR photoreduction) AND (functionalisation OR functionalization)


Tip: Check database Help screens for advice on advanced search techniques like

  • applying Boolean operators: AND, OR, (and maybe) NOT
  • phrase searching (example: "visible light")
  • truncation or wildcarding (example: cataly*)
  • using proximity operators: NEAR, WITH, WITHIN, etc., so terms must appear within X words of each other (example: permitting up to 3 words between terms retrieves "functionalization reactions of tertiary amines")

Revise and Repeat

Find additional terms for concepts in your search. Look at:

  • Titles, abstracts, and indexing of references you think are useful
  • Terminology used in review articles about your topic

Also think about different perspectives on your topic:

  • Methodology used
  • Type of reaction/class of reaction
  • Compound or compound class
  • Product

Add the new terms to the concepts in your search, run your search again, and evaluate the results.

Controlled Vocabularies

Many library databases include the option to search by controlled vocabulary—a regularly updated list or hierarchy of standardized terms. Possible labels for this option include "concepts," "descriptors," "index terms, "MeSH," "subject headings," and "thesaurus."

Controlled vocabulary can:

  • Accommodate differences in word form and spelling
  • Consolidate synonyms and terms from multiple languages
  • Consolidate a term for a broad topic and terms for more specific aspects of that topic (often called "explode" or "exploding")

On the other hand, controlled vocabularies are typically updated once a year, so they lag behind terminology authors use in current publications and presentations.

Search SciFindern and search Reaxys (use the Query Builder) for "Amine Functionalization via Oxidative Photoredox Catalysis: Methodology Development and Complex Molecule Synthesis," by Beatty and Stephenson (Accounts of Chemical Research, 2015, 48(5), 1474-1484.) Compare the SciFindern Concepts, MEDLINE® Medical Subject Headings, and Reaxys Index Terms used to describe the content of this article. Look for the same article in PubMed. What additional information do their MeSH terms provide?