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Spark 001: The Border and Chicanx Texts (Contreras)

This guide was developed for Spring 2024

Brainstorming Keywords (Infographic)


  • Search exact phrases by using quotation marks
  • Use broader or narrower terms and related words as synonyms

Selecting and Using Keywords

University of West Florida, John C. Pace Library, 3:50

This video explains keywords as index terms that point to the way for a computer to retrieve documents from a database. The video indicates that 2-4 keywords are best and shows how to break down a research question (about video games) into keywords. The explanation for why certain words are crossed out from the research question is very good. The video also explains that this process requires work—try searches again in different databases. The illustration of searching for penguins in the North Pole is good to connect students to the idea of subject specific databases. The video explains that scholarly articles are written by “hardcore professional nerds” who are thorough, so it’s a good idea to look through the references cited by one good article, pull up those articles, and look through them to see what other words could be used as keywords. The ending of the video has university-specific contact information; start the video at 0:02, and stop the video at 3:33. It would be more effective to have this as two videos—one on keyword definition and breaking down a research question into keywords, and then a second video on how to use articles to find other keywords. This might be a personal preference. This video could be used in a LibGuide, assigned prior to a session, or be watched in a session with a keyword building exercise if students have research questions.

  1. What do you put in a database’s search box?
  2. What is a keyword?
  3. How do you go from a research question to a keyword?
  4. How many keywords should you use?
  5. What are some strategies for developing related keywords?

Keywords - A Critical Reflection

Research in Latinx Studies requires critical attention to the keywords you use--perhaps even more so than other fields.

People of Latin American, Caribbean, Spanish, and Portuguese descent in the United States are not a monolith. Therefore, no one term will ever fully capture the diversity of identities, ethnicities, nationalities, races, and experiences which are grouped under terms like "Latinx," "Latine," Latino/a," "Hispanic," and "Hispanic-American." Use of these words is contextual and situational.

The very desire for one all-encompassing term to describe this diverse mix of people comes from academic, governmental, activist, and economic impulses and strategies to identify labels for groups--despite the fact that many individuals within those groups do not use or prefer to describe themselves with those terms. 

Thank you to Rachel Stein from the Latin American Library at Tulane for allowing reuse of this content, which is adapted from the original.

Variations in Keyword Use

Here are some essential keywords to keep in mind, depending on the kinds of sources you are looking for:
Latino, Latina, Latin@ Commonly used adjectives in books, book chapters, articles, and mass media that allow gender binaries of masculine (o), feminine (a) and masculine/feminine (@). Latino as an adjective reflects the acceptance of the -o ending in Spanish to describe a group of people that includes men; men and women; or as a default when gender is not specified. Latin@ is used to encompass masculine and feminine.
Latinx, Latine 

Latinx and Latine originated as categories by and for transgender and gender-diverse individuals. They have come into wider use as a form of rejecting masculine/feminine gender binaries when labeling a group that encompasses diverse gender identities. Latine is a more recent development than Latinx that reflects a preference to use the "e" rather than the "x" because it is easier to pronounce in speech. Both tend to be used in progressive and activist-leaning publications, whether academic or popular/ mass media. At present, you are more likely to find Latinx in academic publications and databases than Latine.

Hispanic Term used by the U.S. Government to collect census data, thus a common keyword in demography, politics and media. It is also a term that many use to self-identify, along with the Spanish hispana/o.
Hispanic Americans Key term to use when looking for books, since this continues to be the standard Library of Congress subject heading used to catalog books about Latines in the United States. 
Chicano, Chicana,  Chicanx, Chicane

Refers to Mexican-Americans, particularly in relation to activist movements of the 20th century

Mexican-American, Mexican Americans

Cuban-American, Cuban-Americans

Venezuelan-American, Venezuelan-Americans


Hyphenated nationalities are commonly used across publications and in Library of Congress subject headings.
Puerto Rican, Puerto Ricans Commonly used across publications, including Library of Congress subject headings. Also try boricua, which may appear in titles and texts, but not subject headings.

Cubans --- United States

Mexicans --- United States

Venezuelans --- United States

Colombians --- United States


Try subject searches for nationality AND United States when looking for academic resources.
Afro-Latino, Afro-Latina, Afro-Latinx, Afro-Latine Terms used to describe people of both African and Latin American descent. Not a Library of Congress subject heading. 
African-American, African-Americans Library of Congress subject heading that may be used in combination with others for books about Afro-Latines, e.g. African-Americans AND Hispanic-Americans.
Black, Blacks Library of Congress subject heading that may be used in combination with others for books about Afro-Latines, e.g. Blacks AND Hispanic-Americans, Blacks AND Colombia, Blacks AND Brazil... 

Thank you to Rachel Stein from the Latin American Library at Tulane for allowing reuse of this content, which is adapted from the original.