OC logo
Libraries Home Start Researching Subject Guides Services About Us
Skip to Main Content

Copy of Library Research

The Key to Finding Sources— Keywords

By anticipating what words authors might use in books or articles, you'll be able to find relevant sources more quickly. Remember to use the most meaningful nouns related to your topic as search terms--don't use adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and, in most cases, verbs. 

EXAMPLE: If I'm doing a research project on how to get a good night's sleep, I may want to search library databases with keywords such as "insomnia and therapy." The books and articles I find will lead me to more specialized keywords that I can use in new searches. 

Here are some ways to generate keywords:

  • Utilize Subject Headings--every time you find a book in the library catalog or an article in a database, look for the "subject headings" associated with that work. A subject heading is an assigned word (or phrase) used in a database to describe a concept. You can search using these standardized words instead of keywords, so you don't need to worry about spelling variations. Good searches usually use a combination of both keywords and at least parts of subject headings!

Screenshot of Subjects associated with a resource.

  • Sandwich board with an "Awesome" arrow pointing to the right and a "less awesome" arrow pointing to the left.Brainstorm synonyms, related terms, broader terms, and narrower terms for your topic. Use a thesaurus (this will help you in your writing!). Or if your topic is related to a current event, start by searching in newspapers or magazines, and then use the keywords you find to search for more scholarly sources. Be aware of alternate spellings, plural forms of words (theory vs. theories), and variant endings (psychology vs. psychological)--and try them all!
  • Consult reference works or background sources, such as the encyclopedias in Credo Reference database. Encyclopedia articles often have invaluable definitions and glossaries! Even Wikipedia can help in a pinch.

If you need help with your keywords, please visit us at Ask A Librarian, 24/7 Live Chat.

Below is a video about generating keywords! 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Searching Databases with Keywords by Lehman Library is Closed Captioned and a transcript is available through YouTube.

Next, we'll take a look at how to find some background information in ScienceDirect.