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Research Fundamentals: 3. Determine Keywords

Proceed through each tab in this guide and learn how to become more efficient and skilled at library research.

Keywords: The Key To Searching Library Resources

What are keywords? 

Keywords are the most important words or concepts in your research question. As a general rule of thumb, keywords are usually the nouns in your research question. 


Why do we need to use keywords when searching library resources?

Most students learned how to search for information using Google. While Google can handle full questions or long sentences (also called "natural language searching"), library resources work best if you search only the keywords in your question. In other words, while Google can ignore unimportant or unnecessary words, library databases will look for results that contain every word you enter into the search box. The more unimportant words you use, the less likely you are to find results in library databases and catalogs.





DIRECTIONS: Watch this brief video from Brock University Library to learn how to identify and use keywords. 

Brock University Library. (2012, November 16). How to improve your search terms [Video].  YouTube.

To identify keywords, look for the NOUNS in your research question or thesis statement. 

--Ignore minor words, connecting words, and verbs

--Ignore generic words like effect, impact, cause, increase, decrease, etc.


Tips for keyword searching

  • DON'T enter a full question or complete sentence into a library database or catalog.
  • Try to brainstorm some additional synonyms for each of your keywords.
  • If the terms you are trying aren't getting you any results, use Google to see what terminology experts use. 
  • If you find an article or book that matches your topic perfectly, skim it for other keywords you could try!
  • Keep track of your keywords and add to your list as you find more in the literature. 
  •  You might need to try several different combinations of keywords before you hit on the right combination!
  • Most databases will search for exact phrases if you put quotation marks around words (ex.: "clinical judgment")