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ENGL 100/101: First-Year Composition

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.

You can learn more about putting together search phrases on the Searching in databases page.

Tips for finding & using keywords

The best library researchers try a lot of different strategies when searching for information, but here are some tricks to get your started: 

  • Start small. Begin with only 2-3 words. Avoid long phrases. The more terms you enter, the less results you will get. 
  • Use synonyms. If your first term doesn't work, that doesn't mean there isn't anything. It just might mean that people tend to use different words.
  •  Do background research. Use resources like encyclopedias and dictionaries (think Wikipedia) for overviews of your concept. Information in these sources can provide you with many new keywords! 
  • One good source can take you far!