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Choosing Good Keywords or Search Terms

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Using keywords effectively is an important step in learning how to find sources.  Several tips for deciding which keywords to use are:

  • Focus on the main ideas in your research question.
    • For example in the research question, “What are the benefits of using electric cars as opposed to gas-powered cars?”, the main ideas are electric cars and gas-powered cars.
    • Come up with different ways to express those main ideas. For electric cars, you might use keywords including synonyms like battery-powered vehicles, specific examples like Tesla, and related words, like hybrid cars. Different combinations of words will get you different results, so try a variety of searches.
  • Know what fields the database you’re using searches – does it search just the title, abstract, and author-supplied keywords or does it search the full text of the article or book?
  • Use vocabulary that is appropriate for the type of resource you are looking for – newspapers use more general vocabulary, but scholarly articles use more academic terms.

All of these things will impact how well your keywords will match up with what you are trying to find.

Did your search terms work? Read your database results effectively to find out.

Library databases are great places to find published articles, but the results pages can be confusing, so this video (5:11) will give you some tips to help you find useful results. Consider modifying your search terms if what you’re seeing doesn’t work for you.