Answered By: Vicki Sciuk
Last Updated: May 30, 2017     Views: 371

What is a keyword?

A keyword is a word that you use to find information related to your question.

Another way to think about it: 

Think of a keyword as a hashtag. Similar to when you use hashtags on social media (to help other people find what you've posted), when articles go into a database they are formatted so that they can be found by any of the words located within them.

And so, any word that you can think of, can be used to find information. Pick words that have some meat to them. A good bet is to use the nounspronouns, or occasionally verbs in your thesis. Avoid prepositions (of, with, in, etc.) or articles (a, an, the).

(FYI, if you search for the word "the" - every article with the word "the" in it will be pulled. There are over 350 million in ProQuest Central.)

How do I find or develop keywords?

To begin developing keywords, look at your assignment and develop a topic. Once you've developed a question or a thesis statement, you can use it to develop preliminary keywords.

A sample thesis might be:

How does Starbucks exhibit social responsibility?

In this case the keywords would be "Starbucks" and "Social Responsibility"

Note: Social Responsibility is two words. When we perform our search we want to search it as one (key)word. Using quotation marks " " will transform multiple words into one whole keyword.

Social Responsibility = 2 words
"Social Responsibility" = 1 keyword

What are ways that I can develop or expand upon my original keywords?

  • Use a concept map
    • Creating a mind map or concept map can be very useful, especially for visual learners or people who think in pictures. These maps are used to brainstorm and visualize the relationships between ideas. 
  • Use "suggested searches"
    • Depending on which database you use, some of them provide suggested or related searches based on the keywords you initially searched on. These "related searches"  will provide alternative keywords to your initial search. 
  • Use a thesaurus
    • A thesaurus will provide synonyms and antonyms to the words you use.

Important things to note about searching in databases:

  • Don't search whole sentences
    • ‚ÄčThe database will search for each of those words and it will not pull good results
  • Pull out the most important words of your thesis (the ones with some meat) as your first keywords
  • Brainstorm for synonyms or special "jargon" or terminology used in the field you are researching to give you different (possibly better) search terms
  • Start simple with your search.
    • Once you realize what you want to focus on, you can make it a more complex search with additional keywords or filters.

Please Note:

It often helps to do a some reading on your topic before you begin searching. 

Take time to read encyclopedia entries, look at a news articles, or credible websites to begin developing an understanding of the topic. Feel free to even look at Wikipedia - it has handy resources like the references (located at the bottom of each entry).

  • These references tell you where the authors found information and you can use these references to develop new ideas. 

For more information:

Please check out the video and links below:



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