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Waidner-Spahr Library

Research Process: Keywords

Use this guide to as a basic guide to research. Information is included on how to use keywords and phrases, evaluate a source. This guide can also help you identify primary and secondary sources and expand or narrow your searches.

Keyword Searching

You can use your topic or research question to generate keywords.

For example:

Topic: Role of women in post-colonial Senegal as depicted in the film ''Faat Kine.''

Search: Women AND Senegal
Search: Women AND Africa

Search: Women AND Faat Kine
Search: Women AND Africa AND Film

Topic: Landscape in the work of Petrach

Search: Petrarch AND Landscape
Search: Italian Landscape AND Literature
Search: Nature AND Petrarch


Developing a list of keywords for your project is vital for your research, for your note taking and for shaping your final paper. A keyword is simply an important word or short phrase relating to your research. Keywords can be a person's name, a place, an organization or a subject. You can often use keywords to conduct a search of the library's catalog, databases, and JumpStart. As you begin to research your topic, you will discover additional keywords that describe your subject. Some words may no longer be in popular use ("Great War" for World War I), but may at one time have been standard. Such words or phrases will be important if you attempt to find older resources.

As you search and find new materials, keep track of words and phrases that appear in titles or in the subject fields of books or articles.  They can serve as new keywords to use as you search.  It also may be helpful to consult a thesaurus for additional help in brainstorming keywords.

Choosing Search Terms

Choosing the Best Search Terms

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Choosing the Best Terms for Your Search by Dickinson College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.