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FYSEM 110LG: Slang: Community/Power/Language

Generating Keywords

Often when doing research you’ll begin with a question or a topic and need to figure out how to translate that into keywords - search terms - that can be entered into a research database. Choosing keywords that will get you relevant search results is more of a craft than an exact science, but here are some tips:

  • If you are starting from a research question or topic, often you can pick some terms out of the question or topic itself.
  • If you already have one article, chapter, or book on your topic, you can scan* that text for keywords, names of people who have expertise on that topic, or even references to other works on your topic.
  • Check a reference work like Wikipedia or Oxford Reference Online to help you better understand the topic and find more terms that describe it.
  • Use a thesaurus like freethesaurus.com to find synonyms for terms that describe the topic.
  • When you do begin searching in a database like Discover, whenever you find a relevant result, check to see what terms (sometimes called subject headings, descriptors, or keywords) the database uses to describe that result. You can reuse these in a new search to see if they find additional relevant results.
  • If you find you’re getting too many results, try narrowing your search by adding an additional term (or terms) to it that defines your topic more specifically.
  • If you find you’re getting too few results, try broadening your search by using search terms that define your topic more loosely or generally.

Keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to try all of these techniques with every search!  Sometimes one or two will work and you can stop when you've found the information that you need.

*What is scanning?  Scanning is looking for specific information in a text rather than reading every word.

How to tell if a search result is relevant to your topic

Do you have to read every article or book you find to determine if it's relevant to your research topic? No! Here are some techniques to try instead:

  • When viewing search results in a database, click into the full record for a result to view more descriptive information about it. Sometimes the full record will include an abstract (summary) that will give you a better idea of what the article or book is about.
  • If the database record doesn't include a summary but a result's title still looks promising, get the article or book and skim* it to see if it's really relevant to your topic.

*What is skimming? Skimming is reading for the main idea of a text. Rather than reading an entire article all the way through, read the abstract (if it has one), the introduction or first few paragraphs to get an idea of the main purpose or argument of the paper, and the conclusion. For a book you would read the table of contents and check the index to find any chapters or sections relevant to your research, read the introduction to get an overview of the main purpose or argument of the book, and read the final chapter for any conclusions.

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