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Expert Research Help from IUB Libraries

Refer to the Identifying Keywords handout 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