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ENG W240 Community Service Writing

On This Page

  • Worksheet: Question->Search Strategy
  • Brainstorm Keywords
  • From Question to Keyword (video)
  • Brainstorming Keywords (video)
  • Selecting Number of Keywords (in Databases) (video)
  • Keyword Searching: Tips
  • Identify Keywords with Subjects
  • Search Strategy Builder

Question->Search Strategy

With this worksheet:

  • Break your Research Question into Core Concepts.
  • Construct a Search Strategy

(See the Search Tips page for more on search techniques.) 

Brainstorm Keywords

Experiment with keywords and related terms relevant to your topic.
   (Tip: Remember databases generally include more formal language.)

concept map like the one below can help in generating search terms. 

From Question to Keyword

Identify key search terms based on your research question.

Brainstorming Keywords

Identify effective search terms for database and web resources. (From Portland State University.)

Selecting Number of Keywords (in Databases)

Keyword Searching: Tips

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.

To Identify Keywords...

1. Identify the major concepts of your topic.

Example topic: the environmental consequences of fracking

2. Develop keywords related to the major concepts of your topic.


Concept 1: Fracking

Concept 2: Environmental consequences


Hydraulic fracturing

Natural gas drilling



Global warming

Note: Databases can be picky about search terms. Identify synonyms for your concepts, and consider the words likely used in the database. See the tips below for more on identifying keywords.

Effective Keyword Searching:

Concision: Begin with only 2-3 terms, and avoid long phrases. The more terms you enter the fewer results you’ll get.

Keyword Search in OneSearch@IU:  
environmental consequences of fracking
: 0 results


fracking environment: 2,472 results


Synonyms: If your first term doesn’t work, try a synonym. 
(Example: environment INSTEAD OF environmental consequences)


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.)


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. 
  • Most databases list “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. 

Identify Keywords with Subjects

Subject Terms can help you identify effective keywords. Most databases list Subjects in their search results.

For example, in OneSearch

1. Do an initial search. 











2. Under Refine Search click on Subject.

Search Strategy Builder

Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you should be able to cut and paste the results into most databases’ search boxes.

Concept 1 and Concept 2 and Concept 3
Name your concepts here.
Search terms Search terms Search terms
List alternate terms for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words, or "short phrases" in quotes













Now, cut and paste the results into the search box of a library database (or Google).
The Search Strategy Builder was developed by the University of Arizona Libraries and is used under a Creative Commons License.