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ENGWR 300 (Jacobsen)

ENGWR 300 (Jacobsen)

Working with Keywords

Selecting and Using Keywords

When deciding which keywords to use to find sources for a research paper, here are some tips to help you with this process:

  • Less is More: Start your search with two or three words describing the main point of your topic!
  • Keep it Simple: It's better to enter a few well-chosen words than a long topic description. Unlike Google, Library Databases will often only find results when the keywords you use are specified in the title and description of the article, book, video, etc. 
  • Are you struggling with Finding Sources?: That's okay. The research process can take some time at first. Try different keyword searches, and reach out to a librarian for help. 
  • You can chat with a librarian through our 24/7 online chat system, make a Zoom research appointment, or stop by the Research Help Desk in-person

List Possible Keywords

Identify the keywords that best describe your topic. These can be used as search terms in the various search tools you might use to conduct your research, such as individual library databases, OneSearch, and Google.

Start with your main concepts.

  • College AND Free Speech


Keep it simple. It's better to enter a few well-chosen words than a long description of your topic.


Do some brainstorming and come up with synonyms for your keywords. You may have to work on each concept separately.

List some synonyms for College:

  • Universities 
  • Academic Institutions 

List some synonyms for Free Speech.

  • Freedom of Expression
  • Lack of Censorship

Can you think of any others?

Broader and Narrower Search Terms

Can you think of some Broader, Narrower, and Related keywords for College and Free Speech?

Broader Search Terms

  • School
  • Discourse

Narrower Search Terms

  • Four Year Universities 
  • Safe Spaces

Related Search Terms

  • liberty
  • hate speech
  • offensive speech
  • professors
  • politics

What are some others?

Use Wikipedia to Track Down Useful Keywords

Once You Begin Your Search


  • Keep your list of keywords handy as you work with OneSearch or a library database.
  • If a particular search doesn't give you the results you need, go back to your list and try another approach.
  • As you are searching, you may come across new keywords that would work well with your search strategy.
  • Stay flexible!