Skip to Main Content

Calvert High School Library: Keywords


From your research question, identify the main concepts or keywords related to your topic. You will use these to find information in search tools like library databases, or on the Web. By creating a list of keywords, you will be able to construct better and more efficient searches. These in turn will lead you to more  relevant information for developing and supporting your thesis.

1. Extract single words or short phrases.

You will not use complete sentences as you would in normal conversation to search. Leave out minor words such as articles ("a," "an," or "the") and prepositions or verb phrases ("on," "in," or "going to").

Also, use nouns (person, place, or thing) as keywords. Avoid verbs (action words) and use adjectives (descriptive words) sparingly.

2. Experiment with different synonyms.

Try thinking of synonyms (words that have the same meaning as another word) of your keywords. For example, you start with the word "trash," but you could also experiment with using the words "garbage" or “waste.” An online or printed thesaurus is a great place to find synonyms. As you conduct your background research make note of the other words used to refer to your topic.

3. Think of related terms to describe your topic.

What are some other topics or areas related to your topic? These may be worthy of consideration if you are having trouble finding good keywords or if you want to further refine your research focus. For example, some related terms to "pollution" are "acid rain," "global warming," or "refuse water." The related terms may be more specific or less specific than the original terms in your question. Each combination will change the number and type of your search results

The initial keywords you use will have an impact on the results of your search. If your keywords do not give you results you need consider the strategies above and switch out your keywords. Using the “right” words will speed up the research process, while the “wrong” words can bring to it to a halt.

Combining Keywords

When researching, you will be trying to combine the right terms in the right place to find the information needed. 

Broad Search - Search for information using the single most important term related to your topic. Use this type of search when looking for basic background information.

Getting Too Many Irrelevant Results? - Add more search terms.

Getting Too Few Relevant Results? -Change or remove some search terms.

Specific Search - Search for information by combining the keywords you have identified. Each keyword should be separated by the word "AND"

Finding Keywords Tutorial

Free Hit Counter