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Technological Literacy Across the Social Sciences - SSCI101

Choosing keywords

Search tools try to match the terms you search for - your keywords - with the words that appear in a book or article's title, summary, or full text. You need to select the most important keywords to use as search terms. You should never search for your entire research question or thesis statement.

 

DON'T search for:

  • "What are the effects of a lack of access to high-speed internet on high school students in rural parts of America in the 21st century?"

DO search for:

  • "high-speed internet" and "high school" and rural
  • Look for limiters on the page that can narrow by location or geography, or include "United States" in your search
  • Look for limiters on the page that narrow by date of publication, or include a term like "21st century" in your search

 

Next, think of additional synonyms, broader terms, narrower terms, or similar ideas to search most effectively for the best sources. This will give you more options if your initial search does not return the results you expected. As with previous steps, brainstorming keywords can happen at any point during the research process - you may come up with some at the beginning, discover more during your exploration, and then have to try new ones when searching for scholarly articles.

 

This chart outlines how you might do this using the sample research question.

Sample Topic: What are the effects of a lack of access to high-speed internet on high school students in rural parts of America in the 21st century?

Keyword chart with three main concepts
Concept 1: "high-speed internet"  Concept 2: "high school students"       Concept 3: rural  
broadband (a close synonym) teenagers agrarian
internet  (a broader term) "high school"                    country
"fiber-optic network"  (a more specific term) graduates Montana
network  (a related idea) children farmland
  • Quotation marks tell the search to find the entire phrase, not just each individual word.
  • Multiple concepts (terms from separate columns) can be connected in a search using AND:
    • broadband and "high school students" and rural
  • Multiple terms that mean close to the same thing (terms in the same column) can be connected in a search using OR:
    • rural or agrarian
  • These two strategies can be combined as well:
    • broadband and "high school students" and (rural or agrarian)