Skip to main content
Once you’ve chosen a research topic, you need to start searching for information on the topic. Before you head to the Library to look up books and articles, you need to think about how you will search for information.
Remember – much of your research will involve searching online catalogs for books, and searching print and electronic databases for magazine and journal articles. You cannot just ask a computer to find information, as you would ask a person. You’ll need to type keywords into the online catalog or the database.
What are keywords? Keywords are words or groups of words that you type into the search bars in online catalogs or electronic databases. When you have done this, it prompts the search engines of these resources to find books, articles, or other materials that include your keywords in the online records.
What keywords do you need to type? Obviously, words related to your chosen research topic. For example, if you want to find information on the topic, “organic gardening in the Southeast” what keywords might you type into a search line to find information? You might try these keywords: organic gardens and Southeastern United States, or, organic gardening and Southeastern states.
How do you find keywords for a topic? Think about your topic, and think about words that might be used to describe the topic. Look in print or online dictionaries and thesauruses to find words related to your topic. Most electronic databases, which are used for finding journal, newspaper, and magazine articles, will include online thesauruses, dictionaries, or subject guides to help you find related and similar words concerning your topic or various aspects of your topic.
REFINING YOUR SEARCH TERMS
Narrowing a topic:
Let's say you choose to write on the social problems topic of: ORGANIC AGRICULTURE. "Organic agriculture” is a broad topic – that is, you can find a lot of information on this topic. Perhaps too much to use for a short research paper or a short assignment! So – how do you go about narrowing the topic? Add keywords which will limit, or narrow, the information you retrieve in a search.
For example, you could decide to narrow your broad topic of "organic agriculture” to: “organic gardening and plant diseases” What keywords might you type in order to get information on this narrowed topic? You could try typing these searches:
Organic gardens and plant diseases
OR … Organic gardening and plant disease and treatment
Broadening a topic:
Let’s just say you want to write a research paper on the topic, “Organic gardens in southern Jackson, Tennessee” You probably won’t find much material on this; your topic is much too narrow. If you really want to write about organic gardens, you will have to broaden your topic. How do you do this? Add, subtract, or change your keywords to broaden your search and maybe obtain more information:
Organic gardening and Southeastern United States
OR... Organic gardens and truck farming
NOTE: By using different keywords, in different combinations, you may find many useful resources during your research work. Be imaginative! Think of various keywords and combinations of words which might help you locate needed information.