Research Process

37 Using Effective Keywords in your Research

Robin Jeffrey

Good research involves creative searching. If you have taken the time to think through what types of information you want and what types of sources you want that information from, then you are already off to a great start in terms of searching creatively.

But another key step in good research is in thinking about using effective keywords.


Some tips for getting the results that you want from a search

  • Use quotation marks. If you are searching a phrase, put it in quotation marks: “textbook affordability” will get you results for that exact phrase.
  • Use AND/+. If you are searching for two terms that you think are topically related, use AND (or +) to connect them: “education AND racism” or “education + racism” will only bring up results that include both terms.
  • Use NOT/- to limit what you don’t want. If you are searching for a term that’s commonly associated with a topic you don’t want to learn about, use NOT (or -) in front of the keyword you don’t want results from: “articles NOT magazines” or “articles – magazines” will bring up results that are about articles, but exclude any results that also include the term magazines.
  • Use an asterisk to get a variety of word endings. If you want to get back as many results on a topic as possible, use * at the end of a word for any letters that might vary: smok*, will bring up results that include the terms smoke, smoking, and smokers.
  • Remember to search terms, NOT entire phrases or sentences. And swap out synonyms for your core keywords.



Research Strategy: Coming Up with Keywords for Your Topic

The following are questions that might help you arrive at the correct keywords and searching strategies for your research:

  • What are at least two phrases related to your research topic that you can search “in quotation marks”?
  • What are your NOT words—the words that you want to exclude from your search?
  • For which words would the asterisk be helpful?
  • What are three core keywords that you can use in a search for your topic? What are synonyms for each of those three words?





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Using Effective Keywords in your Research Copyright © 2021 by Robin Jeffrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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