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Writing (Terhaar) Online

Search Terms and Keywords

Divide your topic into a few main concepts

  • Words for main or key concepts in your topic are keywords.
  • They'll be important once you start searching, especially if your first search attempts don’t find much that’s useful.

Sample topic: Is memory loss related to aging?

The keywords are memory loss & aging 


List the related terms for each keyword: 

memory loss: alzheimers,amnesia,forgetfulness aging: aged,old age,elderly


Expand your list of keywords to expand your results

  • Words in some fields can be very different from standard everyday, popular usage. 
  • Scan reference sources, subject headings and article abstracts to find additional or new terms to expand your list.

Tips for Coming Up with Search Terms

  • Use encyclopedias, such as Gale Virtual Reference Library, to learn vocabulary of the topic. Look for the following when reading an encyclopedia entry: What words do other researchers use? What is the background of this topic? What are the issues, arguments or developments related to this topic? Were you able to find anything on your topic?
  • Use an online thesaurus to find synonyms or related words for you search terms
  • State your topic in a brief and clear way (one or two words) and then figure what would make your topic more broad or narrow.
  • Keep track of the keywords you're using, what think you'll be writing about, and how this changes during the process
  • Ask for feedback on your topic from a classmate or your instructor

Take the Keywords/Search Terms Tutorial

Not sure how to determine the best keywords? 


Take this short "Find your Keywords" tutorial for an interactive overview!