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Select appropriate keywords

Once you've identified the information you need to find, you must select the most appropriate keywords to search for that information. Search tools try to match the terms you search for - your keywords - with the words that appear in an article's title, summary, or even the full-text. You should never search for your entire research question or thesis statement. Instead, select the most important terms that describe the information you need.

Don't search for, "What study skills are the most helpful for students to succeed in college."

Do search for the terms "study skills" and students and college.

Your keywords should be terms that clearly describe the information you want to find. Think of additional synonyms, broader terms, narrower terms, or similar ideas to search most effectively for the best sources. Below are examples of main keywords and alternate keywords for the sample topic, "Is a college degree worth the money or are street smarts as valuable in the real world?"

Main keyword
Close synonym
Broader term
More specific term
college degree bachelor's degree higher education business degree
worth value return on investment salary
street smarts common sense informal education life experience

Quotation marks around terms tell the search to find the entire phrase, not just each individual word.

Multiple keywords can be combined in a search using "and" between them to tell the search to find both words. For example, "bachelor's degree" and value.

Keywords that mean close to the same thing can be combined in a search using "or" between them to tell the search to find either of those keywords. For example, "street smarts" or "common sense."

This video demonstrates how to use these strategies for working with keywords in a library database.


STOP and answer question 11 on the assessment.