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Expert Research Help from IUB Libraries

Refer to the Identifying Keywords handout (RTF handout here) or read below to learn strategies for identifying and using keywords for your research

Identifying Keywords

KEYWORD expresses a central concept or idea about a topic. When you are using Google, you are keyword searching.
**NOTE: When searching using library resources (databases, IUCAT, etc), you may need to be more selective with keywords.


  • Identify the major concepts of your topic and think of keywords related to those concepts
  • Think of synonyms and related words for your keywords - sometimes databases can be picky
  • Consider what words the database will best understand

For a project on the environment consequences of fracking, keywords may include

  • Fracking
  • Hydraulic fracking
  • Natural gas drilling
  • environment
  • Polluation
  • Global warming
  • Climate change

Tips for Effective Keywords

Be Concise: Begin with only 2-3 terms and avoid long phrases
Synonyms: If your first term doesn't work, try a synonym or a broader term
Database Search Results: Do a quick database search and see what relevant terms appear in your search results. Look in the titles, abstracts, and lists of subject terms provided on most databases.
Subject terms are the words/phrases databases use to organize the resources they hold.
Background Research: Do some background research to learn terms and vocabulary often used when discussing that topic. Background research doesn't have to be scholarly - do a Google search to educate yourself to improve your keywords