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Sociology: Keywords

Keywords are Important

Keywords are important. Using the right words makes your search easier and gives you the results you need for your papers. But finding the rights words can be hard. There are lots of ways to keep track of keywords - just be sure you keep track of them so you don't end up using the same words over and over to the same search results over and over.

"Keywords are the significant words or concepts that express an idea or topic. They are an example of "natural language" access to information, in which you use words in natural order to describe a topic. In contrast, Library of Congress subject headings are examples of a "controlled vocabulary" access to information. A keyword search finds the word or phrase you choose in any field of the catalog record. Keywords are also used for searches in computer-based periodical indexes and Internet search engines.(Elmer E. Rasmussen Library, Nov 8, 2014)."

The words you type into the search box affect your search results. Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try a variety of searches.

  • Create a list of possible words that could appear in a book or article related to your topic.
  • Come up with synonyms or related terms for those.
  • If you're researching a topic from an historical point of view, it may also be helpful to come up with historical terms that may be pejorative today.
  • Stick to using 2-4 concepts when searching.


"How do sleep habits affect the academic success of college students?"

My keywords are:

  • sleep habits
  • academic success
  • college students

What are some possible alternatives for each of these keywords?

Sleep habits Academic Success College students






Be Strategic in Your Searching

  • Select an appropriate search tool. Consider your subject matter, discipline, type of information needed, etc. 
  • Note key concepts (nouns) that relate to your topic.
  • Construct a search using 2-4 key concepts and Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), truncation, and/or quotation marks.
  • Incorporate appropriate limiters, such as date, type of article, language, etc. before conducting the search or after viewing the results list.
  • Skim results; read abstracts to determine an article's relevance.
  • Leverage subject terms to direct you to other articles with the same tags.
  • Revise search as needed. Consider using other terminology you discover from titles and descriptors. 
  • Locate the full-text of a relevant article either through a HTML/PDF link, UCeLinks button, or request it from another library (Interlibrary Loan).
  • Review a relevant source's reference list to locate other articles, books, or authors who have written on the same topic. 
  • If you're not finding information that exactly matches your topic, use pieces of information from sources that are related.

Boolean Operators: Pirates vs. Ninjas

Carnegie Vincent Library (2:57)

Selecting and Using Keywords

University of West Florida, John C. Pace Library, (3:50)

Keyword Searching Tools

Wordtracker homepage

Although this source is primarily for business, it has a robust keyword finder!  Try it out - Wordtracker


man asking questions

This is another business based keyword searcher but with some cool graphics.  Try searching philosophy...Answer the Public