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Research Skills Tutorial

What Are Keywords?

Keywords are the words you use to search and they determine how successful your search is. If you are researching the effects between pesticide usage and cancer in children, for instance, the most important keywords would be: pesticide, cancer, children.

Generally, it is recommended to only enter 2-4 essential keywords. Do not enter a complete sentence as your search phrase.

Choosing Keywords

Here is an exercise to help you generate keywords:

  • Express your topic in a sentence or question: “What is the effect of social media on depression in teenagers?”
  • Create search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence while avoiding common words likely to appear in articles about unrelated topics, (for example, leave out words like "effect," "study," or "research.")  In this research question, the words in bold are the main concepts to be searched: “What is the effect of social media on depression in teenagers?" Social media, depression, and teenagers. 
  • You may need to brainstorm for synonyms or related concepts. For instance, related terms to "teenagers" are youth, juveniles, and adolescents. You could also express "depression" as mental illness, psychology, or self-esteem. You may need to try a few different keyword combinations to find good results. 

We will go into further depth on developing keywords by using a concept chart in Chapter 3. 

How to Choose Keywords

This video from McMaster Libraries explains how to choose keywords for database searching when doing research.

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