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Research 101

The steps of the research process & how to apply them.

1d. Identify Keywords

The Best Words for the Best Search

Before you begin searching for information in a print or online resource, identify keywords or concepts related to your topic.

Selecting the Right Keywords

Figure 1
Selecting & Using Keywords

Note. From Selecting & Using Keywords, by Krueger Library - Winona State University, , YouTube ( Copyright 2016 by Winona State University.

You can find key terminology by scanning:

  • Your initial research question.

  • Encyclopedia or other articles used when conducting background research.

  • Bibliographies at the ends of books or articles.

Now use the form below to develop the keywords for your first online search:

Develop a Keyword Search

When you have a general idea of your research topic, begin the following steps:

  1. Consider what you already know about your topic and

  2. of simple and general search terms to use in the catalog or a research database. Then add complexity, focus, and specifics.

  3. Construct a search strategy:

    1. Circle two or three of the most important concepts or keywords you have chosen for your search.

    2. If a thesaurus or subject list is available in the database you are using, you can use terms from it as well.

    Now write each keyword down and list synonymous or related terms:

    Write Down Your Search Terms
    First ConceptSecond ConceptThird Concept
    Or Or Or
    Or Or Or
    Or Or Or
  4. Insert connectors and, or, and not between the terms you’ve chosen to combine them into a search statement.

    • A search using and narrows your topic.

      Example: beer and health and college students.

    • A search using or broadens your topic.

      Example: alcoholic beverages or beer or wine or liquor.

    • A search using not can eliminate unrelated topics.

      Example: Proliferation not nuclear.

  5. Write out the search statements you’ve created:

  6. Input these statements into the catalog or a research database to get your first set of results.

Search Now

Use this catalog widget to perform your first search.

The catalog will open in a new window so you won’t lose the information in the form.

Advanced Search

Find Additional Sources

Try these tips to get more information:

  • Exploit bibliographies. Especially note relevant items in the bibliographies of:

    • Encyclopedia articles

    • Journal articles

    • Books and book chapters

  • Relevant statistics can be a good source of evidence to use in your research papers and projects. See the guide to Data & Statistics.

  • Want something unavailable at Northwestern? Request an interlibrary loan.