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Last Updated: Oct 10, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Using Key Words


Why Key Words Matter

Despite all the advances in web and database searching, computers still don't do well with meaning.

When you type a word into a search box, the computer looks only for the word you typed, not the concept you had in mind. To you, that word is an idea. To the computer, that word is a bunch of letters. 

So, the burden is on you, the researcher, to choose the best keywords with which to search. The keywords you choose have a direct and measurable effect on the results you get back. Even a small change in your keywords can lead to a big change in results.

Generating Key Words

The first step in thinking of keywords is to define your topic. You can't research or write about a topic if you can't articulate what it is! Try writing your topic down as a sentence or a question.

Think of keywords to describe each concept involved in your topic. Think of more than one, in case your first choice does not work. Focus on synonyms and related terms. What are other ways to state your topic? Is there a specific word that will describe an abstract concept in your topic?

Sample topic: Does the death penalty unfairly target minorities?

Concept 1: death penalty

Alternative Terms: capital punishment, execution

Concept 2: unfairly targeting minorities

Alternative Terms: discrimination, racism, prejudice

        Alternative Terms: African-American, Hispanic, ethnic groups



    If you are accessing databases from home - use the information in the box below!

    • JSTOR
      Archive of core scholarly journals from many disciplines.
    • eLibrary
      Provides full-text magazine and newspaper articles, plus other multimedia files.
    • First Search
      Multiple databases from the state of IL, includes book catalog (OCLC).
    • Wilson Omnifile Select
      Full-text reference, periodical, and multimedia resources.

    Accessing Databases from Home

    If you are at home, click on the Niles North database link below, select the database you'd like to use, and enter your student login for access.



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