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Keywords

Key Concepts vs. Keywords

The first step in the research process is to identify the key concepts of your topic. Key concepts are the elements of your topic that you will use to search.

From these key concepts you will generate the keywords needed to search the library's catalog and article databases.

Why bother?

For some search tools, like Google, you can type or paste in your entire topic and get relevant results, but most library search tools require more sophisticated handling. Using keywords instead of whole sentences streamlines the search process.

Step 1: Identifying Key Concepts

Identifying a topic's key concepts can help you build your search strategy and set parameters. 

Write down your research topic and identify the important nouns and verbs. Do these words truly define the key concepts you are investigating or are there other underlying concepts at play? You should be aware of both the obvious concepts and the underlying ones.

Example:

  • Topic: Is expansion of offshore oil drilling a solution to rising gasoline prices in the United States?
  • Nouns & Verbs: expansion, offshore oil drilling, solution, rising, gasoline prices, United States.
  • Key Concepts: offshore oil drilling expansion, rising gasoline prices, United States.
  • Potential Underlying Concepts: environmental impact of oil drilling, gasoline price's effect on American consumers, foreign oil trade. If any underlying concepts are essential to your topic, modify your Key Concept list before moving on to finding keywords.

Step 2: Identify Keywords

Keywords are search terms, the words you type into the search box when using a search tool. 

Consider the key concepts you identified for your topic. Start by translating those concepts into keywords you can potentially use when searching different online search tools. The best way to identify a good selection of keywords is to come up with synonyms for your key concepts. Be sure to look for more synonyms, keywords, and concepts as you search!

Example:

  • Topic: Is expansion of offshore oil drilling a solution to rising gasoline prices in the United States?
  • Key Concepts: offshore oil drilling expansion, rising gasoline prices, United States.
  • Keywords:

Key Concept 1

Key Concept 2

Key Concept 3

offshore oil drilling

gasoline prices

United States

offshore drilling

gas prices

America

deep water oil drilling

oil prices

American

 

Words you don't need to search for and why: 

  • is, of, an, to: In general, words like articles, prepositions, and indicative verbs can be ignored because they are so common. 
  • expansion, important, solution, rising: In general, adjectives and words that indicate a relationship between two concepts should be ignored because they may eliminate otherwise relevant results from your search. The more keywords you add to your search, the fewer results you will retrieve. 

 

Modified from DIY Research Guide, Camden-Carroll Library, Morehead State University.

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Guide Owner

This guide is maintained by D'Arcy Hutchings.