Skip to main content

University Library

UNIV 150: Freshman Year Experience

Identity and Global Challenges

Identifying Keywords

A keyword is a term that expresses the main idea of a concept. You use keywords every time you search in Google. Keywords can also be called search terms

For example, if you were looking for a pizza place close to SSU, you might type Pizza Rohnert Park into Google. Pizza and Rohnert Park are your keywords. 

When you search in the library, you will be most effective when you use multiple keywords. Databases can be picky. To come up with keywords, identify synonyms to your concept, and think about what words might be used in the library's resources. 

Expanding your ideas into search words

Say that we're interested in researching the broad idea of technology's effect on society. We've used our five Ws to brainstorm topic ideas, and have decided to look into how using Facebook affects relationships. In order to most effectively search for information on my topic, I should come up with multiple key terms to put into my searches. By doing this, I am able to cast a wider net for my information search.

To come up with a series of keywords, you can brainstorm, alternative words, synonyms and antonyms. For example, for Facebook, I can come with a number of terms:

Alternative terms Similar options Antonyms
Social Media Twitter Local Community
Social Networking SnapChat Face-to-Face Interaction
Online Profiles WhatsApp


I should do this with each one of my keywords, and then put them together into phrases such as:

  • Facebook AND personal relationships
  • Social media AND relationships
  • Facebook AND community
  • Facebook OR Twitter AND friendship

I have many choices! That's good news, because the first search I try usually isn't exactly right.

Video: Developing Keywords

Watch this short video from University of Houston Libraries  to learn more about developing keywords.