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Keywords Handout

From Topic To Search Statement


Unlike the Web, databases require us to be careful about our search terms, or keywords.


What are Keywords?


Keywords are terms - words and phrases - used to search electronic databases, online catalog, and the Web for information. To more easily identify keywords, frame your topic into a statement or question and then select the most important concepts. These are the terms your will use in your search.


Ex. Does global warming result from natural causes?


Keywords allow you to construct an effective search statement in order to find articles and books directly related to your topic.

Suggestion #1 It's most effective to keep your database search simple, using up to two or three keywords or phrases. 


Suggestion #2 We can't always know exactly how the author has chosen to express their concept, so always think of synonyms as terms that mean the same, or almost the same, thing.






Ex. colleges or universities 



Searching is a process. Don't be discouraged if you aren't successful at first; try new keyword combinations.

Combine keywords using one or more of the following tools (which tell the database how to interpret your search statement).


AND - includes all terms. Narrows search results.


Ex. drugs AND athletesResults will include both terms, not just drugs or athletes alone.





OR - includes any term. Broadens search results.


Ex. colleges OR universitiesUseful when searching synonymous terms - saves having to do separate searches.



NOT - excludes terms. Narrows search results.


Ex. cirrhosis NOT alcoholWill produce results about cirrhosis, but not alcohol-related cirrhosis.



Phrase Searching - use quotation marks to search your terms all together as a phrase (EBSCO databases assume phrase searching, but most do not).


Ex. "undocument workers"


Ex. "Sarah Palin"


Ex. "stem cell research"

Truncation - searches for a root work with varying endings. Use the * or ? sumbols, depending on the database (hint: most databases feature a HELP area where you can learn tips on searching that particular database).


Ex. diet* will result in: diet, diets, dieting, dietary, dietician, dieticians, etc.

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