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NSP: Killer Communication

Strategies & tips for locating resources for your research project

What is a search strategy?

Developing a strong search strategy can save you time when it is time to search for resources.  Rather than doing general searching using Google, we recommend that you search using the library databases.  Searching Google is much different than searching library databases.

One facet of database searching that can be difficult to get used to is subject heading or keyword searches.  Rather than typing a question in and expecting instant results, users need to focus on identifying and using controlled language searches.

Identifying controlled language for subject headings and keywords is beneficial for the savvy researcher.  Controlled language is typically assigned by the Library of Congress and is then used universally (or at least in English) by vendors and publishers when identifying main points and ideas for their books, journals and other publications.

Once the controlled language for your topic is identified, database searching is usually much easier. 

Language used on websites by various entities can often be arbitrary and inconsistent.


As you explore word choices, understand how names are listed and begin searching, keep in mind that most often you will get results, but you should be able to get better results.

Subject Headings--Killers

For instance, KILLERS will yield results, but they will be limited, use MURDERERS and you will have more results and have a more complete view of the research available.

While MURDERERS is a great term, SERIAL MURDERERS is going to work even better, especially if you are searching for a serial killer, (SERIAL MURDER or SERIAL MURDERERS).

There are also different varieties of murderers:

  • ASSASSINS
  • WOMEN MURDERERS
  • TEAM MURDERERS
  • MASS MURDERERS

When searching for people, maximize your results by searching:

  • "Dennis Rader" OR "Rader, Dennis"
    • You'll find mostly the same results, but perhaps additional articles by searching them together
    • Be sure to put "quotation marks" around phrases, that way the system will look for those words next to each other, rather than for incidences where both terms are found anywhere in one article--an important distinction
  • If your murderer was given a nickname, be sure to search that term as well
    • "Zodiac Killer"

Subject Headings--Communication

COMMUNICATION as a subject heading is a general term, but you can be more specific, trying various types of communication

  • ORAL COMMUNICATION
  • NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION
  • WRITTEN COMMUNICATION

MASS MEDIA is described as the "modern means of mass communication".  

SERIAL MURDERS IN MASS MEDIA or SERIAL MURDERERS IN MASS MEDIA