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ENG 200: Kisel

Identifying Keywords

Keywords are the terms that you type into the search box in a library database.  They are the essential terms for your idea, the most important words describing your topic. 

Before you can begin searching for information in a resource, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. 

Key terminology can be be found by scanning:

  • Your initial research questions
  • In-class readings
  • Background research articles from encyclopedias, news articles, popular magazines, etc.
  • Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles
  • Specialized vocabulary or terms authors in the field of study are using

Think of related, broader, and narrower terms connected to each of the key concepts.

Use subject terms assigned to works in library catalogs or research databases.

TIP: Make a list or use a chart to keep track of keywords related to your topic. Keep it by your side when you start your research. Make note of which keywords return the most relevant results. It's a dynamic process and you may have to experiment with several synonyms.

Building Search Strings

Once you have identified keywords, use the following techniques to build search strings for searching in library catalogs, databases, and search engines to quickly find more relevant sources to use in your research:


Boolean Operators Search Modifiers

AND combines different ideas (concepts).

         Narrows the search.

Example:   feminism AND Russia

Results will contain both the words feminism and Russia

Phrase Searching allows adjacent words to be kept together.

Example:    “women's rights”

Results will contain words women's and rights together as an exact phrase.

OR is used when adding synonyms, different spellings, similar concepts, etc.  

         Increases the number of results. 

Example:    women OR females

Results will contain one or more of the words women and females

Truncation broadens search to include various word endings and spellings. 

Example: femin*

Results will contain terms that begin with femin, e.g., feminism, feminist, femininity 

NOT excludes terms to make the search more specific.

      Reduces the number of results.

Example:    Russia NOT Soviet Union

Results will not contain the Soviet Union

Nesting utilizes parentheses to control the logical order in which words are interpreted by the system.

Example: ("women's rights" OR "gender equality") AND Russia

Results will include the word Russia and either or both the phrases women's rights and gender equality


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