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Research Toolkit: Keywords

 Related Guide: Choosing a Topic


Keywords are words that we use to search databases and search engines. They may also be called search terms. Choosing good keywords for your topic and understanding how to use them in searching will help you find the information that you need. 


Step 1: Identify the Major Concepts of Your Topic

Pick out the key concepts that make up your topic (make sure you have a focused topic). Leave out common words like the, what, is, of, have, etc.

For example, if your research question is: What impact does social media have on mental health? you would pick out the words social media and mental health. You will use these words to search for information on your topic. 

Step 2: Brainstorm Synonyms for Your Major Concepts

Coming up with synonyms for your main concepts gives you more options in your searches. Synonyms are words or phrases that have the same or similar meaning. Let's use our example research topic. Although our research question uses the phrase social media, not every author will use that same phrase. Some authors may use a synonym for social media, such as social networking, or more specific terms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. To find more relevant sources on your topic, think of and try synonyms in your searches.

Main concept: Social Media. Synonyms = social networking, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Main concept: mental health. Synonyms = anxiety, depression, psychological impact, psychological aspects


Pro Tip: Use a thesaurus to help you come up with synonyms. Wikipedia can be another helpful source for finding synonyms and related terms.

Step 3: Use Your Keywords in a Search

Search Library databases for books, articles, and other types of sources using your keywords. 

See the page on Find Articles for searching strategies.

Pro Tip: As you search, you will likely encounter additional keywords to use. Great - try them out!