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GNED 103: Strategies for Academic Success

What are Keywords?


Terms that represent the main concepts of your research topic.  These terms are what you will use to search for sources (articles, books, etc.) to support or answer your research question.  Keywords can be single terms or a phrase.

The right keywords are "key" to finding good sources.

When you are developing these keywords consider:

  • What are the most important words/phrases in your research question
  • How to describe your topic
  • How might someone else search for your topic
  • Do you need to use subject specific terminology
  • Synonyms

Example: Developing Keywords

Start by identifying the main concepts in your research question:

For example, if my research question is: How is global warming affecting the polar bears of the Arctic?

The main concepts areas here are:

  • Global Warming
  • Polar Bears
  • Arctic
Then brainstorm related terms and synonyms for your concepts:
  • Global Warming:
    • Climate Change
    • Greenhouse Effect/Greenhouse Gases
    • Atmospheric Change
    • Global Temperature Change
  • Polar Bears:
    • Endangered Species
    • Arctic Mammals
  • Arctic:
    • Habitats
    • Sea Ice
    • Specific Locations – Alaska, Canada, Greenland, etc.
Having trouble?
  • Use a dictionary or thesaurus
  • Do background research in an encyclopedia
  • Ask a librarian or your instructor if you are having problems
  • Conduct a broad search to find a few initial articles and look at subject terms that might be useful

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