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Understanding Research

Learn how to search, identify, evaluate, and utilize academic research.

Identify Keywords

What are keywords?

Unlike Google and other web searches, databases work best when you enter keywords instead of full phrases or questions. Each database has its own set of recognized vocabulary, so having a variety of keywords can help you avoid frustration while searching.

  • Keywords represent the major concepts of your topic
  • Try variations of a keyword, or synonyms.
  • Add new vocabulary or keywords from your initial search results
  • Get additional keywords from the title, abstract, and subject headings of articles.

Identifying main concepts within your research question/topic

Research Question: How does lack of access to food affect child development?

Main Concepts: lack of access to food, child development (words like how, does, and, to, etc. are not important)

There are a few types of keywords that you can work with, depending on your topic.

  • Narrow - can you use a more focused word or idea? (ex. brain development, physical health)
  • Broad - what is the big picture idea behind your topic? (ex. Wellness, Health)
  • Related - are there concepts that closely relate to your topic? (ex. hunger, nutrition)
  • Similar - are there synonyms for your topic/concepts? (ex. hunger, food insecurity, food security, food desert)

Identifying Keywords (Video)