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Online Library Orientation: 2. Keyword Searching

An online introduction to the library's resources for BSC students.

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"), most databases 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.


First, watch the brief video below to learn how to identify and use keywords. 


Then, read more about identifying the main concepts in a research question here.


Finally, try this exercise on identifying the main concepts in a research question. 

Jenks Library. (2018, August 16). Developing keywords [Video]. YouTube.

Tips for keyword searching


  • Don't enter a full question or complete sentence into a library database!


  • Search for the nouns: ignore minor words, connecting words, and verbs


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


  • Try to brainstorm (or Google) some additional synonyms for each of your keywords.


  • If you find an article or book that matches your topic perfectly, skim it for other keywords you could try! 


  • In most databases, putting quotation marks will search words together as a phrase. 


  • You might need to try several different combinations of keywords before you hit on the right combination!