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Searching with Keywords: Home

Break your research question into keywords to search more effectively in databases.

Generating Keywords

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 you'll get: 

  • Television
  • Movies
  • Video games
  • Music
  • Print media (books, magazines, and newspapers)
  • Online media – blogs/social media

Now brainstorm keywords for "representations" and you'll get:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Ethnicity/Racial
  • Sexuality
  • Disability
  • Social class

Combine any of these keywords: one from the first group + one from the second = your search terms!

For example, if you pick the two keywords:  

television + 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!

Stuck on your keywords? Try this: How to Generate Keywords from the University of Texas.

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!

Combining Keywords with Boolean Operators

To get the best search results in library databases, combine your keywords with the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT.

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

Use OR for combining related keywords or concepts (results will contain either keyword).

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

Many databases have a dropdown menu with AND, OR and NOT on the advanced search page. 

In the example above, the three keywords are connected with AND, bring up 153 search results.

The second example shows how you can broaden your results by incorporating alternate keywords/synonyms with OR. In the example above, incorporating alternate keywords using OR increased the search results from 153 to 350.

Quick Tips & Shortcuts for Database Searching

More Information

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