Skip to Main Content
Banner Header

Research Tips

Developing keywords

Before you start looking for information, take a few minutes to state a research question, identify possible keywords, and brainstorm alternate keywords. This will help focus your searches and save you time.

1. State a research question

Stating a research question will help you clarify your thoughts. For example, you could ask questions such as:

  • How do school lunches impact student health?

2. Identify possible keywords

Look at your question. What are the key concepts? For example:

  • How do school lunches impact student health?

3. Brainstorm alternate keywords

Once you have picked out the keywords in your question, make a list of synonyms, related terms, broader terms, and narrower terms. Some good ways to find alternative terms are looking in reference works like encyclopedias, talking to professors and librarians, and brainstorming with friends.

Come back to this list for keywords to use when searching for information. As you search, you may notice other terms used in the literature. Add these to the list. You may also find subject headings used in the controlled vocabulary of the catalogs and databases.

Some tips for entering keywords: Use quotation marks to keep phrases together (for example, "school lunch.") Use an asterisk for truncation (for example, socio* will search for any word that begins with socio, including sociology, sociologist, or sociological.)


Examples of related terms

School lunches:

School lunches

School meals










Boolean operators

To conduct a comprehensive search in a database, you should use the terms recognized by the database. These include subject headings (which standardize all the possible terms for a topic) and keywords (rather than complete sentences.) Find the keywords in your research question, then combine them with AND, OR, and NOT.

Use AND to join multiple concepts in your search. Use OR to combine similar terms for the same concept. Use NOT to exclude a concept.

("school lunch" OR "school meals") AND (health OR nutrition)