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ENH291: Step 2: Keywords


Banner heading for keywords

Databases deliver the best results when you search using specific keywords or short phrases rather than full sentences, questions, or strings of words. Thinking about your topic can help you to identify relevant keywords. You can also use the background and reference articles to identify keywords.  As you read through those articles, take note of the terms and keywords that are used.  Keep a log of these keywords, you will need them when you are ready to search the databases. 

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Keyword Searching

What makes a good keyword?

Good keywords are single words (usually nouns)  OR specific phrases (two or more words that must go together to make sense).  Here is an example of some keywords and phrases:

  • "early childhood"
  • "language development"
  • "Mother Goose"
  • folktales

​​​​Try to use keywords that are more specific than general.  For example, if you want to research the effects of socioeconomic characteristics on literacy development, think about specific SES characteristics or specific effects.  Those keywords and phrases might be:

  • "income level"
  • "parental involvement"
  • education   
  • "language development"

Once you have a list of keywords, you can create search statements. A search statement is made up of two or more keywords connected with the word AND. The search statement is what you will type into the search box in the database.  Remember, searching databases is different than searching Google, so you must search in the way the database will best respond.  Here is a few examples of search statements.

  1. "early childhood" AND "parental involvement" AND literacy - this search statement will return results that include all 3 of these keywords/phrases
  2. "fairy tales" AND literacy - this search statement will return results that include both of these terms.  The results may not be limited to early childhood so you may need to add in that additional keyword phrase. For example: "fairy tales" AND literacy AND "early childhood"
  3. "early childhood" AND "income level"  - this search statement will return results that include both of these keywords ***but the results may not be related to literacy.***  Be sure to include relevant terms in the search statement.
  1. Quotes - use quotes around two or more words that must go together.  This tells the database to search for that exact phrase. Avoid putting quotes around words that do not need to be an exact phrase.  For example, instead of searching "early childhood literacy" try searching  "early childhood" AND literacy

  2. Synonyms and Related Terms - Think about synonyms and related terms for keywords that can be used in searching. 

    1. If you are searching for "income level" also try the keyword poverty.
      1. Search statement: "income level" AND "early childhood" AND literacy

      2. Search statement: poverty AND "early childhood" AND literacy

    2. If you are searching for "parental involvement" also try the phrase "family literacy"

    3. Search statement: "parental involvement" AND "early childhood" AND literacy
    4. Search statement: "family literacy" AND "early childhood" AND literacy
  3. Read your search statement: Does the search statement include the relevant terms for what you are looking for?  Remember you may need to search several times with different search statements.  Try different combinations of keywords to get different results.  Switch out keywords for synonyms or related terms.