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Pre-Research Information: Articles (AL): Keywords

Guide created by Anne Anderson. Direct comments to

Selecting Keywords

When you search in an online database, you have to decide what to type into the search box.

In general:

1. Select the two or three most important words related to your topic.

2. Put the word AND between each new idea.

For example, in the topic below, the most important words are highlighted:

 I want to research the effects of a soda tax on childhood obesity.

In the online article database, you would type in:

soda tax AND childhood AND obesity

What If You Get Useless or Irrelevant Articles?

There are a few reasons why you may end up with a list of articles that are not what you're looking for.

1. If you get a list of very few articles, the selected keywords might be too specific. 
    In this case, you will need to be more general.  

    Instead of:  body mass index of children in elementary school who eat doritos
    Try:            body mass index AND children AND junk food

2. If you get a list of too many articles that cover too many aspects of the topic, the selected keywords might be too general.
    In this case, you will need to be more specific.  

    Instead of:     plants 
    Try:               invasive plants

    Another way to be more specific is to put phrases in quotation marks: 

      "invasive plants"  "soft drinks"  "body mass index"  "junk food"

3. Article authors may have used slightly different words. 

    For example, instead of soda, they may have used soft drinks.

In these cases, you will need to be persistent in finding and trying different keywords (search terms).  The other boxes on this page will give you some ideas for where to find other options.

Keyword Ideas from Articles

If you find an article in an online database, words from the article itself might provide good options.

First, check the list of Subjects assigned to an article.  These subjects are the official/preferred way an idea is described in that database.  In this case, we learn that "Soft drinks" (not Soda) and "Taxation" (not Tax) are the preferred terms. 

In the search box, better keywords to use would be:  "soft drinks" AND taxation AND obesity


Next, look at the text of the article itself.  In the excerpt below, a few ideas are highlighted: