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Building a Library Research Strategy: Keywords and Search Terms

This guide will help students develop a research strategy for finding information for papers or projects.

What is this page for?

This page suggests different ways to develop keywords and search terms

 

Why is this important?

  • Part of creating a successful search strategy means having strong keywords and search terms.

  • Creating keywords and search terms will help you get better quality results in a shorter period of time. 

Keywords Video

SEARCH TERMS TIP: What is Boolean Searching?

AND/ OR / NOT

Using the words AND,OR, NOT between keywords will make a more complex and targeted search.

Using these words connects important concepts in your search to make it more accurate and efficient.

The following are some examples:

  • AND makes a search more specific > Global warming AND sea level rise
  • OR provides options for terms > Young adults OR teenagers AND anxiety
  • NOT eliminates the terms you don't want > Addiction AND opioids NOT alcohol

Here is a visual example as a Venn diagram:

SEARCH TERMS TIP: What is Truncation?

TRUNCATION *

  1. Truncation allows you to use a "wild card" option for the ending of your terms.
  2. By adding an asterisk  * after the root word means you are asking the database to search for any possible ending after the asterisk.
  3. Using truncation will help locate more results, or "broaden", the choice of articles on your topic.

For example:

  • architect* = searches for architecture, architect
  • nurs* = searches for nurse, nurses, nursing
  • addict* = searches for addict, addiction, addictive

SEARCH TERMS TIP: Why use quotations?

QUOTATIONS MAKE A PHRASE

  • Use "quotation marks" around phrases to help the database search more accurately.
  • By using quotation marks you are asking to only search those words together and not separately.

For example:  "factory farms", "industrial waste", "young adults", "service animals", "social media"

Keyword Brainstorm

You can use this worksheet, or something like it, to organize your terms. (see the PDF link below)Search Worksheet

Search Term Worksheet PDF 

Finding Keywords from a Research Question or Thesis Statement

If you are working with developing a research question or thesis statement, use your question to find your search terms by identifying a few of the most important concepts.

Some examples:

1. QUESTION: What was the impact of The Great Depression on government policies in the 1930's and 1940's?
> Your search might look like this: Great Depression AND "government policies" AND 1930-1940

2. QUESTION: In what ways can cyberbullies be effectively prosecuted?

> Your search might look like this: Cyberbull* AND prosecut* OR law*

3. QUESTION: What are the current advantages and disadvantages of religious influence on education in the United States?

> Your search might look like this: Relig* AND education AND United States AND impact OR influenc*
 

4. STATEMENT: There are multiple impacts of student debt on young adults in the United States.

> Your search might look like this: Student debt OR College debt AND "young adults" AND United States OR USA

KEYWORD TIP: Try these

If you are not getting good results, or too many results, try adding one of these terms with your keywords:

controversy

debates

views

viewpoints

argument

counterpoint

supporters

opponents

objection

Example: "Gender bias" AND viewpoints

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