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I Need Help Developing Keywords

Keywords or search terms are the main concepts in your research topic and/or research question. Most academic databases use keyword searching as opposed to natural language searching. This means that search results are generated by pulling the terms you've provided from anywhere within the source (e.g. title, abstract, subject headings, body of the text, etc.). Because of this, having good keywords is essential in creating successful search results. The more terms you use the fewer results you get, so it's important to be selective.

Example: A search like impact of gender on people's salary expectations will get far fewer results than gender AND salary AND expectations.

Try: A quick background research may help you identify effective keywords.

Browse the Databases: Getting Started Page, which lists multidisciplinary electronic resources that are good for finding a variety of information. Try one! Wikipedia and Credo Reference also provide basic information about your topic (e.g. keywords, people's names, or place names).

Try: Brainstorm terms that mean the same thing or are related concepts:

Not every source refers to a concept the same way, so it is a good idea to provide multiple versions of your keywords. Example: an article about salary may not use that word, so try terms like wages, pay, income, or earnings. Searching for all of those terms together with OR between them (example: gender OR pay OR wages OR income OR earnings) tells the search engine to find at least one of the terms in your search results. 

Click here for more help with database searching/using Boolean operators.


You can use the following tools to help you develop keywords:


Still need more help? Watch this Brainstorming Keywords video by Portland State University.

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