First Year Writing Research Guide

Keywords and Search Statements

What are Keywords?
Unlike the Web, databases require us to be careful when choosing search terms, or keywords.

Keywords are terms - words and phrases - used to search electronic databases, online catalogs, 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. Are developmental writing courses effective in preparing community college students for academic writing?





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


Suggestion #2 We can't always know exactly how authors have chosen to express their concepts, so always think of synonyms: terms that mean the same, or almost the same, thing.
Ex. developmental OR remedial OR basic writing
Ex. colleges OR universities OR higher education


Suggestion #3 Searching is a process. Don't be discouraged if you aren't successful at first; try new keyword combinations.
Truncation is a way to search for a root word and its varying endings.


Truncate a search term by placing an a * or at the end or root of the word. Which symbol you should use depends on the search tool you are using--most databases and search tools will have a HELP area where you can learn tips on searching that particular database.


Ex. writ* will return results featuring : write, writing, writer, writers, written ...
Ex. compos* will return results featuring : compose, compose, composing, composition ...


Activate Phrase Searching by placing multi-word key terms in quotation marks. This will ensure that those words are searched as one unit, rather than as individual terms (EBSCO databases assume phrase searching, but most do not).


Exs: "basic writing" , "process theory" , "Peter Elbow" ,"composition theory"
AND - includes all terms. Narrows search results. 
Ex. "Mike Rose" AND "basic writing." Results will include both terms, not just "Mike Rose" or "basic writing" alone


OR - includes any term. Broadens search results.
Ex. "composition theory" OR "writing theory" : useful when searching synonymous terms - saves having to do seperate searches


NOT - excludes terms. Narrows search results.
Ex. composition NOT music : will produce results about composition, but not music-related compostion.

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