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ENM 583: Bommer

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 or concepts, narrowing the search.

Example:  fairy tales AND gender

Results will contain both the words fairy tales and gender

Phrase Searching allows adjacent words to be kept together.

Example:  “Snow White”

Results will contain words Snow and White together as an exact phrase.

OR is used when adding synonyms, different spellings, similar concepts, etc., increasing the number of results

Example: fairy tales OR folklore

Results will contain one or more of the words fairy tales and folklore

Truncation broadens search to include various word endings and spellings.

Example: histor*

Results will contain terms that begin with histor, e.g., history, histories, historical

NOT excludes terms to make the search more specific, reducing the number of results.

Example: Snow White NOT film

Results will not contain the word film

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

Example:(fairy tales or folklore) AND gender

Results will include the word gender and either or both the words fairy tales and folklore


One Paper, Many Keywords

M. Ekoniak, "Engineering culture and LGBTQ engineers' use of social change strategies," 2013 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2013, pp. 580-581, doi: 10.1109/FIE.2013.6684890.


IEEE Xplore

UDiscover (EBSCO)

Web of Science

Google Scholar


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