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Developing Keywords: Home

What Are Keywords?

One you have determined a topic and have written out a working research question or thesis statement, it is time to begin identifying keywords for searching the library's databases.  These words express the key concepts (main ideas) of your research question or thesis statement.  The more specific your keywords, the better chance you will have of finding the most relevant sources for your search. 

Collecting Keywords

Start with your research question or thesis statement and write it out.  For help creating a research question or thesis statement and choosing a research topic, visit the Choosing a Research Topic guide. 

Example: How did Disneyland's first year of operation affect California's economy? 

Cross out the filler words.  These are words that are important to a topic when spoken as a question, but don't get to the heart of the topic. 

Example: How did Disneyland's first year of operation affect California's economy? 

Now you are left with fewer words, but you might be able to narrow your keyword list down a bit more.  Looking at the words left in the example above, I know that Disneyland, California, and Economy are keywords that focus in on the main points of the topic.  The keywords First Year and Operation may be too specific, but do provide context to the question, so I will keep them as options.  Also, the keywords California and Economy should be placed together because on their own they are both broad topics, but together they form context.  The same can be said with First Year and Operation.

Example Keyword List:

  • Disneyland
  • First Year Operation 
  • California Economy 

Begin brainstorming related terms and synonyms.  Search Google and Wikipedia, use a thesaurus such as, and always keep in mind that you should be thinking of words and phrases that both narrow your focus and broaden it out (within reason). 

Keyword Related Terms


Walt Disney

Disneyland Park

California Economy


Market growth

State income 

First Year Operation

First Year




Now you have a long list of keywords you can use to search the databases.  Combine your keywords together using Boolean Operators, quotation marks to search exact phrases, and parenthesis to search specific terms together. 

Example: Disneyland AND "California economy"

As you search, keep notes of words and phrases that keep appearing in the articles you are researching.  These additional keywords are what the experts in the field are using, and should be used by you during your search. 

Visit the Database Search Tips guide to learn more about searching the library's databases.

Developing Strong Keywords

Use the form below to follow the librarian's process and provided examples to help develop strong keywords. 

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