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Developing a Research Topic: Developing Keywords for Searching

Developing Keywords


Break Down Your Topic


  • Re-read your topic and identify two or three of the most important parts of the concepts.
    • Try to condense those concepts into keywords -- unique terms that will bring up literature relevant to your search.
    • If you have a term that is more than one word long, put the term in quotation marks.

For example, "college athletes" will only search for the entire phrase "college athletes," or prefer the entire phrase in your results list. Searching for college athletes without the quotation marks will often search for every "college" and every "athlete," or articles with both terms, but not the phrase. 


Brainstorm Synonyms


  • For each concept, think about synonyms or related terms.

  • Use the Boolean Operator, OR,  to connect these synonyms.

    • An author may use one term and ignore another. 

    • If a thesaurus is available for the database you use, bring in appropriate terms from it as well.


Bring It Together 


Creating complex searches using multiple search terms allows you to (hopefully) find more relevant literature. 


  • Use the Boolean Operator, AND, to connect concepts. 
  • Use the Boolean Operator, OR, to connect concept synonyms. 
  • Avoid commonly-used terms like "strategies", "effective" and "research" - this can lead to some misleading results. 



  • “foreign language requirements” AND “college OR university”
  • “suicide AND prevention”




  • Research is a process. 
  • Sometimes it takes constructing several searches to find the most relevant and inclusive results.