Skip to Main Content

USTU 10 (Fall 2023, Gray)

Introduction to Undergraduate Studies

Brainstorming Keywords

The words you type into the search box affect your search results. Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try a variety of searches.

  • Create a list of possible words that could appear in a book or article related to your topic of interest.
  • Come up with synonyms or related terms for those.
  • If you're researching a topic from an historical point of view, it may also be helpful to come up with historical terms that may be pejorative today.
  • Stick to using 2-4 nouns when searching.

Example: college

  • university
  • "higher education"

Example: "sleep habits"

  • insomnia
  • "sleep disorders"
  • "sleep hygiene"

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?