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The Research Process

Leverage keyword strategies for better search results 

 The right keywords are key to finding the best results for your research. The term has a different meaning depending on the context.

  • search box in Mears' Discovery or databases: Use the keyword field to find broad results from a number of different fields, such as author, title or subject. Enter the same terms into more specific fields, such as title or subject, for more specific results.

  • online search engine: Keywords are tied to Search Engine Marketing (SEM) or Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Your results may be influenced by advertisements or be listed closer to the top in your results than you think they should be.

  • research article: In a research study, you'll find a list of keywords for the primary concepts or ideas. You may also find the list of terms the researcher used when conducting their own searches. 

 As a researcher, here's how this impacts you

  • a library database. Keywords are tied to subject headings, special dictionaries or thesauri, known as controlled vocabulary. Those lists of words are tied to search results through a process known as indexing. If you pick the right keywords, you'll get great results! If you don't, you'll miss results. It's hard to know what you've missed unless you know how to access the lists.

  • a search engine. Keywords are tied to outside algorithms beyond your control which influence the relevancy and order of your results. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and relevance of your sources when searching online.

  • a research article. The keywords selected by the researchers get connected, or indexed, to those special lists created by publishers, databases or organizations.


   Check out this tutorial to learn more about how to use keywords and subject terms   

 ​​​​​​Here are some actions to take while researching.

  • Library database: 

    • Look for the lists in the top menu. They'll have names like: Thesaurus, Subject Headings, Index, MeSHNAICS or Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms 

    • Look for the subject headings in your search results. Click on the linked words to find additional sources. 

  • Search engine: Recognize that it's difficult for an online search to provide objective results for scholarly research. Be aware that you may miss results that aren't supported by ads, and you'll likely end up with results that aren't really tied to your topic due to ads. Start from credible sites, and always evaluate the information's trustworthiness.

  • Research article: Take notes on the keywords used in a study and use them when you conduct your own search. 

Keyword Toolkit 

 There are many ways to develop a list of keywords for searching, and there's no best way. Find a way that works for you and use it! 

  • Use index, subject heading, thesaurus or special dictionaries in library databases

  • Take this tutorial from Colorado State University Libraries* to learn about and practice keyword strategies. 

  • Use the MindMap in Credo Reference to expand or refine your terms

  • Search for similar terms using an online dictionary or thesaurus

  • Find out if there's a specific list of terms in a library database tied to your area of research. Here are a few: 

    • Business: Look for NAICS codes in EBSCO Business Source Premier 

    • Health Science and Nursing: Use Medline to explore MeSH terms

    • Psychology, Social Work: Use terms from the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms in PyscNet

  • Keep a running list of terms in a document or spreadsheet


Developed using CSU Libraries Keyword Strategies tutorial. Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International