This guide teaches why keywords are important and methods for brainstorming so you can successfully use keywords to search. You will learn how to get better results in library databases and on the web by using keywords.
You use keywords all the time searching on the web via Google or your search engine of choice. Each word you plug in a search box is a keyword, but they don't work quite the same in library databases as with Google. Typing a question or phrase describing a topic into a library database will likely give zero or very few results. Why?
Databases don't understand natural language and will only return results containing all of the words you put the search box.
For this reason, you need to break your topic down into concepts or specific keywords that are most important to the search. Take a look at this topic:
The key elements of this research question are: social conditions, terrorist organizations, and Israel. The causal relationship is already implied by searching for the keywords together, thus cause and growth are not necessary as keywords.
Knowing the most important elements of your topic, the next step is brainstorming out potential keywords: related words, broader and more specific words, and synonyms – words that mean the same thing.
Synonyms are especially important because the words other people use may not be the same ones you naturally think of. Library database searches depend on what words the author used and what words are assigned to articles by the indexers, called subjects or subject headings.
Let’s brainstorm out our topic. Keywords Include:
Read up on the topic in encyclopedias or on reputable websites.
Often it just takes a bit of time reading general overviews of a topic to identify recurring keywords, people, and the like.
Run a basic search in a library research database appropriate for you topic.
Doing a simple search with a broad keyword or two will give you a good idea of what's available. Once you have some results: