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How do I come up with the best keywords for my searches?

Last Updated: Aug 01, 2016  |  448 Views

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Determine the 2-4 terms for your topic that are most essential to what you are hoping to find. For example, if your topic is "ways to improve voter turnout for presidential elections" the most important terms would be: voter turnout and presidential elections.  The next step in generating keywords is to apply your terms to a search for materials.  The following steps will help you to go from a set of general keywords to a set of terms that will allow you to greatly improve the quality of your results.

  1. Try doing some broad searches in a specialized subject database related to your topic (e.g. PAIS International) or a database with broader subject coverage (e.g. Research Library Complete).  You will find recommended databases within the Library's Research by Subject guides.
  2. Browse the list of subject headings to determine how much information is available, and to get a feel for the different terms that are used to describe your topic.
  3. Notice the specific subject headings that are being used in your search results. Use these subject headings to either focus or expand your search.
  4. Follow the trail of relevant subject headings attached to search results to find more information.
When you have a collection of keywords and subject terms, it is strongly recommended that you mix and match your various terms in new searches to ensure that you have made an exhaustive search for materials.  Be sure to ask a librarian for help!


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Answered by Kathleen McQuistonBookmark and Share

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