Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Social Work: Using Keywords

Coming up with keywords

When you’re searching in the library databases, it’s more effective to use keywords instead of entering your whole research question. It’s a good idea to take out all the extra words for your topic and narrow it down to just the key concepts, because the databases often have trouble parsing extra words. To come up with keywords, focus in on what the key concepts of your research topic are.  

For example:

  • “what are the effects of foster care on children” → effects AND foster care AND children
  • “how does immigration status affect families” → immigration AND immigration status
  • “how can the homeless access mental health services” → homeless AND mental health services AND access

If you’re searching in a database with one search box, you can put AND between each of your keywords to keep track of them. If the database has more than one search box, you can put one term in each box to make it easy to switch them up and experiment. 

Search tips

If you're having trouble finding articles on your topic, try out some of these tips:

  • Try searching for synonyms - often, even if words mean the same thing, they may be used in different contexts, so switching up your keywords can really help. For example, if you're searching for teenagers, you can try searching for adolescents or young adults.
  • Switch up the combinations of keywords you search for
  • Look at an article that's really useful to you, notice the words and phrases they use throughout the text, and try searching for those
  • Make your topic more broad or more narrow, depending on your results. 
  • Make an appointment with a librarian to get help!

Searching with Keywords in SocINDEX

Broadening and Narrowing Your Keywords

If you’re not finding enough articles on your topic, you might want to make your topic a little bit more broad. Similarly, if you see too many results (or results on too many subtopics), you may want to narrow your topic down. Here are some examples of how to do that:

Narrowing your topic:

  • Look at a specific facet – for example, if you’re looking at addiction treatment, look at one specific example, such as supervised consumption services
  • Identify an age group or other demographic to look at in relation to your topic, such as adults, children, women, etc. 
  • Focus in on a subtopic within your topic – for example, if you’re looking at the prison reform, you could focus in on juveniles in the system 

Broadening your topic:

  • Expand the group of people you’re looking at – If you’re looking at people in their 40s, try expanding to adults. 
  • Look at a more general category – if you're researching one specific service, like food stamps, try searching for a broader category, like government assistance
Mondor-Eagen Library | Anna Maria College
50 Sunset Lane, Paxton, Massachusetts 01612