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First Year Seminar: Using Keywords

Trying Different Keywords

When you’re searching 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 anxiety in colleges students?”
    → effects AND anxiety AND college students
  • “How does social media affect children’s body image?”
    → social media AND body image AND children
  • “What themes were featured in the paintings of the Romantic era?”
    → themes AND paintings AND Romantic era

If you’re searching 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 some of these tips:

  • Try searching for keywords 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."
  • Try different combinations of keywords. Changing your wording may return different or better results.
  • Look at an article that's really useful to you. Notice the words and phrases the author(s) use throughout the text, and try searching for those keywords.
  • Make your topic more broad or more narrow. If you're not getting enough results, try broadening your topic. Conversely, if you're getting too many results that aren't specific enough, try search words with a narrower focus. (See "Broadening and Narrowing Your Topic" in the box to the right for examples.)
  • Make an appointment with a librarian to get help!

Searching With Keywords

Broadening & Narrowing Your Topic

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 social media try choosing one specific site.
  • Identify a specific demographic to focus on in relation to your topic. For example, adults, children, women, trans men, etc. 
  • Focus in on a subtopic within your topic. For example, if you’re looking at the death penalty, you could focus in on race or 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 all adults. 
  • Look at a genre instead of a specific work. For example, horror films rather than The Ring, or children's literature rather than The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
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