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Starting Your Research Series

Selecting & Using Keywords

Keywords are the search terms that you type into the library database; the words keywords and search terms are often used interchangeably.

Your first set of keywords will come from your research question. These are typically the nouns in your question that represent your main concepts.

To Do: Watch this video below (3:44) on Selecting and Using Keywords. While watching, think about what synonyms can be used as keywords for your research interests.

Selecting and Using Keywords- University of West Florida Library (3:44)

As you are brainstorming for synonyms, also think of related terms. For example,

clean air” and “air pollution

are not synonyms but are related terms that can be used to locate resources on the same topic. If you don't have a research question, think about what terms represent or are associated with your topic or area of interest.  

Brainstorming additional keywords is not always easy, so identifying the terminology used by scholars and authors writing about your topic can be useful. You can do this by:  

  • doing background reading on your topic in Wikipedia or in Credo Reference, a library database that contains thousands of encyclopedias and dictionaries.
  • conducting a few preliminary test searches in a library database or Google Scholar. Read through the search results and take note of the terminology used in article titles and summaries. 
Click Next to learn search strategies that can increase the effectiveness of your keywords when searching in library databases.