Identifying keywords

Regardless of which of the search tools you use, your search results are tied to the keywords you enter. Start by looking for the main ideas or concepts in your research question. These are the words or phrases that describe the topic you are investigating and will form the basis of your keyword search.

Complete the following activity to learn how to identify the main concepts.

Concepts activity

Alternative terms

There may be times when the keywords you identify from your assignment question do not provide you with relevant or useful resources, or enough information on your research topic. When this happens, expanding your search strategy can help you find what you need.

Authors may use different words to describe the same concept, so it is a good idea to identify alternative terms (also known as similar terms or synonyms) for your topic. This will broaden your search.

Let’s look back at our sample assignment topic:

There has been recent discussion about the appropriateness of celebrating Australia Day on January 26. Discuss the impact of this holiday on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and explore the ways that changing the date might impact the journey towards reconciliation in Australia.

Write a 1500 word essay on this topic. You must cite and reference at least five sources, with at least three of these being scholarly journal articles. All of your texts should be recently published.

For this topic there are three main concepts:

  • Australia Day
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Reconciliation

Alternative terms activity

Combining your search terms

When searching in the catalogue and databases, you can join your keywords using AND and OR.

  • AND narrows your search, returning results that contain both of your terms. For example: Australia day AND reconciliation will only return articles which include both Australian day and reconciliation.

  • OR broadens your search, returning results that contain either of your terms. For example: Australia Day OR January 26 will return articles which include either of these terms.

Connecting terms activity

Other search tips

You can use these tips in the Library catalogue, databases, or Google to enhance your search.

Phrase searching means searching for two words or a string of words as an exact phrase. By using this technique you will only retrieve articles where those words appear together in the text. To search for a phrase, add double quotes around the term.

For example: “Australia Day”

The truncation symbol (usually an asterisk *) is useful for finding different endings of a word. It is added after the last common letter of variations.

For example, the search term reconcil* will search for reconcile, reconciled, and reconciliation