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Information Literacy Session 1: Search Tools and Strategies: Keywords

ENG 102 Embedded Librarian Session: Keywords, Boolean Operators, & Search Strategies

Finding Keywords in a Research Question

After brainstorming you need to turn your concepts into searchable keywords. Keywords are the important words in your research question.Keywords

If you have experience searching on free search engines (such as Google) you are likely familiar with natural language searching, which is simply typing in a question or thought as it occurs to you. However, most library databases do not respond well to this type of search. Instead, they run on a search logic driven by Boolean Operators to return more precise results. In order to make this work for you, you first need to determine keywords for your search. The keywords are ONLY the important words of the sentence, stripped of everything else.

A research question such as: What are the causes of binge drinking among college students? contains the following keywords: causes, binge drinking, college students.

When thinking about keywords, it is important to include synonyms and related concepts. Many of these terms you likely generated while you were brainstorming. This is an important step because sometimes the language used in scholarly publications can vary from how we initially think about a topic. Having alternative words already prepared can help to locate sources more easily if your first search does not return the results you initially expected. Here are three ways to expand your list of keywords at this stage.

1. Close Synonym - list words that have very similar meanings.

  • Teenager: Young adult, youth, adolescent

2. If you are starting with a very specific topic, think about some of the larger terms that describe it.

  • Banned books: censorship, explicit content

3. If you are starting with a very broad topic, think about specific (and related) aspects that describe it.

  • Climate change: drought, forest fires, air pollution

Please go to the next page to learn more.

"Keywords" by Nick Youngson is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0