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Navigating the Research Process

What are Keywords?

Now that you have a defined topic, it's time to think about how you will search for information in the library's databases. Sometimes we search Google using complete sentences, questions, or other phrases to find information or get an answer very quickly. To be able to do a search on a topic within the library's databases you need to think of specific words or keywords to search.

If you try to put in a complete sentence or question in a database search you might get a few results or absolutely nothing. And then you will start to think that you have to change your topic because you can't find anything written about it.

Before diving into searching, you need to think strategically about which keywords you should use in your search to access the best research for your topic. Putting in the work up front like this can save you time in the long run.

More broad/More narrow

Developing keywords for searching is an exercise in stretching your vocabulary and getting you think outside of the box. 

Let's say your research question is this:

Do video games cause children to be more violent?

First, you want to pick out the main words, ideas or themes from the question. Often this means you should pay attention to the nouns:

video games children violent

These are perfectly legitimate words to then start your searching in a database. It is a good idea, however, to think about broader and/or narrower terms for the ones you are starting with. See the brainstorming table below.

video games children violent

computer games


first-person shooter games







antisocial behavior

As you can see, for video games, a broader term is computer games or gaming, but you can narrow it down with first-person shooter games or even the name of a specific game. 

Brainstorming keywords helps you develop options for your search strategy which includes multiple searches. You can't do one search and call it good. Depending on the complexity of your topic, the resources you need, and what information you are actually finding, you will have to do multiple searches using variations of your keywords. Also, as you learn more about your topic, you will think of more questions to answer that are related. You will need to do searches on those new aspects as well.

Important note:
As you can probably already tell, researching something at the college level is different than just doing a Google search. The most important thing to realize is that this whole research process thing is not a straight line. You don't really go step by step to the end. You might have to circle back around to previous steps a few times.

Strategies for Brainstorming:

Concept maps can help you organize your thoughts and better connect related ideas. This will help you develop ideas about specific aspects of your topic, and brainstorm keywords to use in your searches.