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IQP Research Guide: Keywords

Keyword Searching

Source: Utah State University Libraries

Generating Keywords

Learn the Lingo

Every topic, discipline, and subculture has its own lingo, jargon, and key concepts. For example, consider the following sentence:

  • "I need a 0/1 blue Homunculus artifact creature token.” 

This sentence will make perfect sense to someone who plays Magic: The Gathering, but it may sound strange to someone who doesn't. The more you play the game, the more familiar you'll become with the lingo.

Similarly, the more you read about your topic, the more familiar you'll become with the language used in that field. By reading and learning this new language, you'll be able to improve your keyword searching by incorporating new vocabulary words into your searches. 

For example, in South Africa, a childcare center is called a creche. A search for "South Africa" AND creche will yield more relevant results than a search for "South Africa" AND "childcare center".

Identifying & Using Keywords

What is a keyword?
Keywords are important words/concepts found in your research question, topic, or thesis.
When you search Google, you are keyword searching. Keywords can also be called search terms.
How do you identify keywords?

  1. Conduct background research on your topic by consulting encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, websites, etc.
  2. Identify the major concepts of your topic: who, what, when, where, and why
  3. Make note of any jargon and technical terms, including scientific names for living organisms
  4. Break up your research topic/question into separate concepts
  5. For each initial keyword from your topic try to think of terms that meet any of the following in relation to your first set of keywords:
    1. Similar/synonyms
    2. Broader
    3. Narrower
    4. Related
Example topic:  The environmental consequences of fracking

Concept #1 = fracking                                      Concept #2 = “environmental consequences”

Similar =  “hydraulic fracturing”                     Similar = “environmental impact”

Broader =  “natural gas drilling”                    Broader = environment

      “fossil fuel extraction”                

                                                               Narrower = pollution

                                                               Related = “global warming” “climate change”    

Tips for using keywords effectively
  • Be persistent with keywords!
  • Start with only a couple of terms – do NOT use long phrases or sentences in the search box!
  • If your keyword is made of several words, use quotation marks ("   ") around the words to tell the database to search for the words together and in that specific order.
For example:  “natural gas drilling”
  • Mix and match terms. If one term doesn’t work, try switching to one of the synonyms or related terms you came up with or found in your background research.
  • When searching in a database, make note of the “Subject Headings” – these are terms that the database uses like tags. They link all of the articles in that database that are related to that specific concept.
  • When you find a really good source, be sure to read it carefully for new potential search terms, especially discipline specific jargon and technical terms.