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What are keywords?

  • Keywords are words, terms, or phrases that describe the main ideas or key concepts of your research topic or question.
  • Keywords are the words that you can use to find relevant articles and information efficiently and effectively. By selecting your keywords carefully, you will improve your search results! 

Why use keywords?

When you type an entire sentence or question into a search engine like Google, the search algorithm automatically identifies keywords and provides you with a list of results. If you choose keywords that accurately describe the most important parts of your topic or question and type only those words into the search box, chances are that the results will be more relevant to your topic. The same applies to the Library’s search tools like OneSearch, library databases, and the library catalog; the tools cannot accurately interpret full sentences. Remember, whether you are searching using Google or Library tools, the systems cannot understand the meaning of the words that you enter, they just search according to the words that you type into the search box.

You need to carefully consider the words that you use to search to ensure that you get the best results possible. Selecting keywords strategically will save you time and help you get better results! This guide includes techniques that you can use to choose and generate keywords.

To find keywords, you first need to identify the main ideas or key concepts of your research topic or question. Let’s look at the following example:

Does divorce negatively impact a child’s social development?

The key concepts here are divorce, children, and social development. Don’t include non-essential words: s, does, negatively or impact.

The ability to pick keywords out of your research topic or question is an important research skill. Let’s practise to reinforce the understanding of identifying keywords.

 

(All examples and questions above are from LION’S GUIDE TO RESEARCH & THE LIBRARY by Loyola Marymount University and Developing Keywords by USC libraries, used under CC BY-NY.)

There are several ways to select and generate keywords. As you are doing your background research pay attention to the different terms that are used to describe the main ideas of your topic when you’re reading websites, Wikipedia, and encyclopedia articles. Once you’ve selected a few keywords, you can generate other keywords:

  • Synonyms

Different terms can sometimes express the same or similar concepts. Coming up with some alternate words to express the key concepts of your research topic would help you find information easier. You can use an online thesaurus to help.

computer (image source:Thesaurus.com)  

  • Related

Be mindful that language usage can vary; we don’t all describe things in the same way! Related words don’t mean exactly the same thing as your topic keywords but they can be closely associated with your topic. Think about this key concept “video games”. Could you come up with some related keywords? There is no wrong answer here, more keywords are better than fewer!  

  • Narrow

Sometimes your keywords may retrieve too much information or do not retrieve specific enough results because they are too broad. If this happens, try narrowing your keywords. Have a look at the example below to understand how keywords can be narrowed.  

research-guide-keywords

  • Broader

Sometimes your keywords may not retrieve enough information because they are too specific. Broad keywords can help when this happens. Mostly, you will find information within a broader source or subjects that address your key concept. Have a look at the example below to understand how keywords can be broadened.

research-guide-keywords2

 

 

 (All questions above are from LION’S GUIDE TO RESEARCH & THE LIBRARY by Loyola Marymount University and Developing Keywords by USC libraries, used under CC BY-NY.)  

Once you’ve selected a few keywords, you can generate other keywords.

  • Combining keywords is a useful way to broaden or narrow your search when using OneSearch and library databases. Use AND to retrieve resources that include both of the keywords or use OR to retrieve resources that include either of the keywords. If you choose NOT, the OneSearch will exclude that keyword from the results. Try different combinations of keywords to get different results.

capture1

  • Different types of resources may use different terms to describe the same topic. Think about the type of language used in the type of resource that you’re trying to find.  If you are looking for academic papers, use the language of the discipline.  For example, “children” or “kids” is most likely to use in newspapers while “juvenile” or “pre-adolescent” is most likely to use in scholarly articles. You need to develop your keywords flexibly according to types of resources and academic discipline.  
  • Searching is strategic!  As you progress with your research use various combinations of key words and search strategies to get the best results and resources possible.

There are two videos for you to get a better understanding and learn more about Developing Keywords.

Developing Keywords: University of Houston Libraries

Developing Keywords for Your Research: MCC Libraries