Generating keywords

When searching in Library Search and specific databases, it is important to search with individual keywords or key phrases that capture the main concepts of your topic. This is different from searching in other websites like Google, where you might type your whole question into the search bar. When searching databases, you want to avoid extra words and use only keywords related to your topic. Narrowing down your topic into these specific key concepts will help your research process develop more smoothly.

Start by writing down your research question, then note the important terms or phrases. Those will be your keywords. For example, if you are interested in the impact of gender on people’s salary expectations, your keywords might be gender, salary, and expectations.

A search like: “impact of gender on people's salary expectations" will retrieve fewer results than if you searched for just the keywords gender AND salary AND expectations.

Brainstorm all of the keywords or terms with the same or similar meaning of your key concepts. For the word salary, authors might use terms such as wages, pay, income, or earnings.

Searching for all of those terms together with OR between them (for example: pay OR wages OR income OR earnings) tells the search engine to find anything that has at least one of those terms in it, and it retrieves all of the possible works on your topic at once. You can use AND between your search terms to tell the engine to find only results that have all of those terms in them. Or, you can use NOT to find results that do not have a particular term. AND, OR, and NOT are called Boolean operators. Remember to type them in all caps.

Additional keyword resources

For more help with your research, see our page on search tips, or our guide to generating research questions.