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WR121 Davis

Get help researching social trends and issues!

Keyword brainstorming exercise

  1. Fill out your topic.
  2. Circle the main ideas that comprise your topic.
  3. Write those main ideas in the "Round 1 Keywords" box.
  4. Pass your paper to someone else, who will brainstorm more keywords.
  5. Pass the paper to someone else again, who will brainstorm more keywords.
  6. Pass the paper back to the original owner.

Example of a filled-out keyword brainstorming worksheet.

Add quotation marks around phrases

Step 4. Look for terms that are phrases, meaning more than one word. Place quotation marks around these phrases.

Brainstormed search terms. COVID-19, coronavirus, COVID pandemic. Vaccine misinformation, conspiracy theories, rumors, disinformation. Vaccination rates, immunization rates. All two-or-more-word phrases have quotation marks around them.

What does this do?

These quotation marks will force the database or search engine to search for your phrase exactly as you have it written, rather than separating and searching for each word individually. Remember, you do not need to add quotation marks around single words.

Build a strategic search

Now you have a list of important words and phrases. These are your search terms - what the library catalog or database will use to find you awesome articles, books, and more.

But beware! Do not dump all of these words into a search box. Use the library catalog or database’s Advanced Search tools to organize your ideas and build a strategic search. For help with this, contact a CCC Librarian or try out our Search String Builder (linked below).

Search terms expertly used in CCC Library's catalog Advanced Search page.

Keywords vs. subjects

Keywords (also called search terms) are words that describe your research topic. Keywords are chosen by you. Keyword searching is how you search in Google and Bing. You think of important words or phrases, type them into a search box, and get results.

  • Pros: Easy.
  • Cons: Not very precise. Results in a lot of irrelevant and useless search results.

Subjects (also called controlled vocabulary) are words that an article has been tagged with because the article is mostly about those subjects. Subjects are a quick way to find the most relevant articles on a topic, but you have to be careful because the only place the database searches for those words is in that Subject field. If you don't have the right words to search with, you'll get no results. You find Subjects listed in articles that are relevant to your topic, type them into a search box, change the "field to search" to Subject, and get results.

Subject tags in EBSCO.

  • Pros: Results in relevant, topic-specific results. You will see way fewer irrelevant or useless results.
  • Cons: Harder - subjects may not be phrases you would think of off the top of your head.
Keywords vs. Subjects
off-the-top-of-your-head words describing your topic   "controlled vocabulary" words describing the content of each database item
more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways   less flexible to search by - you need to know the exact pre-determined subject term
databases and search engines look for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together   databases look for subjects only in the subject heading field, where the most relevant words appear
may yield many irrelevant results   results usually very relevant to the topic

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