Selecting & Developing Keywords


If you just typed in your research question into a library database or into the library catalog, you probably wouldn’t get many very useful search results. When searching the library catalog or databases, using keywords is much better than using full sentences. Here’s how to select and generate keywords for your searches.

1. Identify your research topic/question: 

  • “What role does nature  play in Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake?”

2. Identify the major concepts in your topic

  • Nature
  • “Oryx and Crake”
  • Margaret Atwood

3. Build upon some of your initial keywords with related words and synonyms (a thesaurus is often helpful)

  • Nature:  natural, environment, landscape, natural world, ecology, ecosystem…

4. Sometimes a little bit of background research is needed to identify a few more keywords.

  • Genetic engineering,  “MaddAdam Trilogy”, Crakers…
    • These keywords were found by looking up “Oryx and Crake” in Wikipedia. (Don’t use Wikipedia as a source, but it’s a good place to find more keywords)
    • Another great place to find more keywords is your textbook

5. Make a list of keywords 

  • Keep adding to crossing out  these keywords as you do your research.

TIP:  Start simple – you can always add or change the keywords in your search later on.

  • “Oryx and Crake” AND Nature OR Natural

Selecting Keywords