Watch this video to learn why keywords are important and how to come up with good keywords for searching.

Why do keywords matter?

The words you think of to describe something will often be different from the words that others think of to describe that same thing. Imagine you’re looking for articles about graffiti. How would your search results change if you used the term “street art” instead? What if you used the word “vandalism”? It’s important to brainstorm a variety of keywords to ensure that you can find all the relevant articles a database has to offer.

When searching for scholarly articles, it helps to consider what words the scholars may have used in writing about their research. Experts often use more specialized language than the rest of us. For example, if you’re interested in how recess affects the way kids learn, consider using keywords like “children,” “pre-adolescents,” or “youths” instead of the word “kids.”

When you want to brainstorm keywords, start by writing out the main concepts of your topic. Then, see if you can think of synonyms for each of those concepts. Next, write down words that are more general or more specific. For example, a more general word for “dog” might be “mammal,” “pet,” or even “animal.” A more specific word could be “Labrador” or “puppy” or “guide dog.”

Another trick to help you come up with keywords is to consider the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when, and why in relation to your topic. So if your topic is causes of World War One, the “who” could be soldiers, world leaders, Germans, etc. The “what” could be defense, strategy, or propaganda. The “where” could be the trenches or the American home front. You get the idea. This method can also help you focus your topic.

Remember, you can still come up with new keywords even after you have already found some articles. Check the titles and abstracts of relevant articles for more potential keywords to search with that maybe you didn’t think of before.