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Research Tips- How Do I...?: Choose Keywords

- The purpose of this module is to help you understand basic tools to expand your college-level research skills. Each "How Do I" section is designed to give you practical information and ways of thinking about information that will allow you to:

Choose Keywords

Identify major concepts of your topic

  • These will normally be nouns or descriptive words.
    • Omit words from your search such as: what, the, is, of, have, etc.
  • Example - your topic is - What is the affect of climate change on bighorn sheep in Wyoming?
    • Use the keywords to search: affect, climate change, bighorn sheep, Wyoming.
      • Using these words will get you a clearer picture and more direct resources for your project.


Create a word list of synonyms or associating words

  • After you have read 1-2 articles, done a quick search, or determined your overarching idea for your research paper create a list of words that associate with the topic.
    • These could be short 5-10 page articles, a book chapter, encyclopedia, or a general google search.
    • You can use Wikipedia for this stage of your paper, but do not use it as a source!
      • Wikipedia is sometimes good for general information regarding a subject, but keep in mind that they can be (and are) changed by ANYONE.  They do not have to have any background in the subject.
  • These could be synonyms of your main concept.
    • Synonyms are words that mean the same or similar things.
      • Suppose your argumentative paper is about why marijuana should be legalized. 
        • There are many words that refer to marijuana and its different forms such as: cannabis, pot, hemp, cannabinoid, etc.

Need More Help Finding Keywords?

Try a Word Cloud generator.
  • Find an article that works well with your overarching topic.
  • Go to the Word Cloud Generator.
  • Click on the Word list pull down and select Exact words from Text
    • Then paste the text into the open space.
  • Get something that looks like this hat - all of the main / common words will be enlarged on the image. 
    • These could point you in the direction of keywords for your research.

Keyword Search Helpers 

  • Using AND - entering climate change AND affect AND bighorn sheep AND Wyoming tells the search that it must find sources with all three terms. 
    • AND should be capitalized  - if not you will get more results sometimes.
    • The more words entered the narrower the search will be.
      •  I did a search for just the words I got 1.9 million results
      • Using AND brought the count down slightly 1.6 million results - but the first results on the page a all related to the topic.


  • Use OR to broaden your search.
    • Entering bighorn sheep OR ram will retrieve resources on either term.
    • Use OR to search for multiple concepts / synonyms in one search, this will get you a wide range of sources.


  • Use Not to narrow your results by excluding items from your search.
    • entering bighorn sheep NOT ram will exclude resources that  contain ram rather than bighorn sheep.


  • Use "Quotation Marks" to ensure the words are in the search results that are pulled.
    • "climate change" AND "affect" AND "bighorn sheep" AND "Wyoming"
      • Using AND and "Quotation Marks" give me 164k results.
        • These are going to be more specific to my question and will get me the best results on this topic.


  • Truncation - *
    • the Asterisk * can be used to find all versions of a work such as: gamble, gambler, gamblers, gambling.
      • you can use gambl* to find all words with this as its stem (or main word).


Keywords & Searches

Using AND, OR, NOT, quotation marks, or Truncation in your searches