A keyword expresses a central concept or idea about a topic. When you search Google, you are keyword searching.
When searching library resources like databases, be more selective with keywords. Begin with a small number of terms, and avoid long phrases.
1. Major concepts: Identify major concepts of your topic.
Example topic: the environmental consequences of fracking
2. Related terms: Develop keywords related to the major concepts of your topic.
Concept 1: Fracking
Concept 2: Environmental consequences
Natural gas drilling
Note: Databases can be picky about search terms. Identify synonyms for your concepts, and consider the words likely used in the database.
3. Background research: To identify useful keywords, do some quick background research. Note terms that are often used to discuss the topic.
(Reference sources like Wikipedia or the library databases Encyclopaedia Britannica and Credo Reference offer overviews of many topics. Of course, remember to evaluate information in Wikipedia with particular care.)
4. Database search results: Do a quick database search and view the search results page to identify relevant terms.
- Titles and article abstracts (summaries) may include helpful terms.
- “subject” terms to describe their records. Subject terms can help you locate more records on that topic. They also give an overview of how others have approached the topic.
Effective Keyword Searching
1. Be concise: Begin with only 2-3 terms, and avoid long phrases. The more terms you enter the fewer results you’ll get.
Keyword Search Examples:
environmental consequences of fracking: 0 results
fracking environment: 2,472 results
2. Use synonyms and related terms: If your first term doesn’t work, try a synonym. You may have to try out several related search terms to find the types of resources you're looking for.
(Example: environment INSTEAD OF environmental consequences)