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How do I... choose keywords for my search?


Before you start searching for books, articles or web pages, you need to choose keywords that represent your research topic.


Keywords are significant words (usually nouns or noun phrases) which can be used as search terms in online catalogs or databases. They can appear in the title, subject headings, abstract, or text of records. A keyword search typically searches all or most of these fields.  

How to Choose Keywords


Follow the three steps below in order to choose effective keywords to find material on your research topic.


Step 1: Identify your research topic

Your research topic is: "Females have brought a positive element to the military."  

Step 2: Identify the major concepts in your topic

The two main elements of the chosen topic are "Female" and "Military"

Step 3: Develop keywords related to the major concepts

Now that you know the major concepts of your topic, think of synonyms that may also describe those concepts. For an example, see the table below:


Major Concept 1: Female
Major Concept 2: Military





Constructing a Keyword Search Using Boolean Operators


There are three major operators you can use to join keyword terms when constructing a search: AND, OR, and NOT. Each is discussed below.


"AND" Operator:

Example search using "AND": Female AND Military

Using the AND operator with these search terms would retrieve results that contained BOTH terms (each result would have to contain the term "female" and the term "military").


"OR" Operator

Example search using "OR": Female OR Military

Using the OR operator would retrieve results that contained either term (each result would contain EITHER the term "female" or the term "military" - not necessarily both).


"NOT" Operator

Example search using "NOT": Female NOT Military

Using the NOT operator would retrieve results that contained only the first term without including the second term (each result would only include the term "female" and could not include the term "military")


Combining Operators


Complex search statements can be constructed by using more than one operator at a time. If you wanted to search for both major concepts, including the additional synonym keywords you thought of, you could construct a search statement that looks like this:


(female OR woman OR girl) AND (military OR soldier OR army)


That statement would look for results that had any of the terms in the first set (female, woman, girl) and then look for results that had any of the terms in the second set (military, soldier, army), then it would return results for documents that had at least one term from the first set and at least one term from the second set.


Constructing a complex statement like the one above allows you to get more results on your topic by incorporating more keyword terms that may be used to describe articles you're interested in.