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TCC Library: Choose good keywords or search terms

Library "How do I...?"

Welcome to TCC Library "How Do I...?"

Find the information you need. Get your questions answered here.

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Tips for choosing good search terms

Choosing Keywords

Using keywords effectively is an important step in learning how to find sources.  Several tips for deciding which keywords to use are:

  • Focus on the main ideas in your research question.
    • For example in the research question, “What are the benefits of using electric cars as opposed to gas-powered cars?”, the main ideas are electric cars and gas-powered cars.
    • Come up with different ways to express those main ideas. For electric cars, you might use keywords including synonyms like battery-powered vehicles, specific examples like Tesla, and related words, like hybrid cars. Different combinations of words will get you different results, so try a variety of searches.
  • Know what fields the database you’re using searches – does it search just the title, abstract, and author-supplied keywords or does it search the full text of the article or book?
  • Use vocabulary that is appropriate for the type of resource you are looking for – newspapers use more general vocabulary, but scholarly articles use more academic terms.

All of these things will impact how well your keywords will match up with what you are trying to find.

Did your search terms work? Read your database results effectively to find out.

The below brief video will give you some tips crafting good search terms. Consider modifying your search terms if what you’re seeing doesn’t work for you.

Watch video: Selecting and using keywords (3:49)

Library "How do I?" credits

The TCC Library "How do I?" guide is adapted from the Library DIY project created by Meredith Farkas, Amy Hofer, Lisa Molinelli and Kimberly Willson-St. Clair at Portland State University Library. Several Library "How Do I?" pages are adapted from pages within the Portland Community College Library "How do I" project, as well as the Oregon State University Libraries' Library DIY project.

CC BY SA license

Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content, with credit to TCC Library. When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Tacoma Community College Library and shared with a CC BY SA 4.0 license.

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