Answered By: Terra Rogerson
Last Updated: Apr 27, 2020     Views: 19


Keywords are the major concepts from your topic.

1.  Write out a description (1 or 2 sentences) of your research topic

2.  Identify the most important 2 - 4 words (major concepts) from your research question. 

3.  For each key concept, make a list of other words with the same or related meanings.  


  • Use a thesaurus to find synonyms.
  • Think of specific examples or types. 
  • If your topic is something you don't know enough about yet, it can be hard to think of synonyms or examples. 


  • Research question: "Does the use of social networking in online classes help students learn?"
  • Key concepts and key words:

college students

online classes
online course
distance education

social networking
social media



Refine your keywords.

1. Choose a database you'd like to use or OneSearch on the library's homepage. 

2.  Choose one keyword from each concept list.  Type those keywords into the search box.  Type AND between each one. (More on Boolean Operators, AND OR NOT)

Examples (from our list above):

  • students AND online classes AND social networking AND learning
  • college students AND online courses AND social media AND performance
  • learners AND online courses AND Facebook AND grades

3.  Click search and explore the results.  Try several of your keyword combinations, and keep a list of the keywords that fetch the most relevant articles.

  • If you get too many results, try more or narrower keywords.
  • If you get too few results, try using fewer or broader keywords.

4.  Look closely at the most relevant articles in your search results. You may see new author-supplied keywords or database subject headings that describe your topic. Add those terms to your list.

5.  Create new keyword combinations from your refined list of terms, and test them again


  •  undergraduates AND online courses AND social networking
  •  student engagement AND higher education AND social networking
  • learning communities AND online courses AND social networking

Related Topics

    Contact the Library


    Submit your question by email.

    Schedule an appointment with a librarian