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Guides & Help

Here is a list of helpful guides, handouts and other Web-based material related to library services.

Developing Keywords From Your Topic

Once you have your research question, you can start to break your topic down into keywords.

A keyword is a word or phrase that describes the main concepts of your research topic.

For example, if your research topic is about "media and representation", your first step would be to brainstorm keywords that you would use to enter into a database to find sources to write your paper. Think about using broader or narrower terms, related terms and synonyms.  

Start with brainstorming keywords for "media" and "representations" and you'll get:

The image is of a venn diagram.

Combine any of these keywords: one from the first group + one from the secondyour search terms!

The image is of a venn diagram.

For example, if you pick the two keywords "television" and "gender", they can then become: 

  • "television and gender stereotypes"
  • "television and female stereotypes"
  • "reality television and female stereotypes"

You can enter any of these keywords into a database and troubleshoot which keywords bring you the best results for your paper.  If the first keywords you enter into a database don't return good results then keep trying the others on your list or come in to talk with a librarian!

Remember that keywords have a significant impact on your search results and using the RIGHT keywords will help you find resources faster.  If the first keywords you choose don't give you the results you're looking for, go back to your list of keywords and try another combination.  Research is all about trial and error, so have patience and email us if you need any help!

Or download our Search Strategy Concept Map: this worksheet will help you build a better search strategy. Use it to brainstorm for synonyms and related keywords.

Combining Keywords with Boolean Operators

When searching databases, you can cannect your keywords with AND, OR, or NOT, also known as Boolean operators.

Use AND for combining two separate concepts (all results will contain both keywords).

  • gender and television

  • depression and social media

Use OR for combining related keywords or concepts (results will contain either keyword). There's always more than one way to say something.

  • teenagers or adolescents

  • cats or felines

Use NOT to exclude specific words from your search results. Use NOT when your search is pulling up irrelevant results. For example:

  • virus not computer

  • Manchester not united

Quick Tips & Shortcuts for Database Searching

More Information

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