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Literary Research Paper 2  

Last Updated: Jan 11, 2016 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?

Keywords Searches

  • Search for: Records that have the search term anywhere within them.
  • Volume: Depending on the terms you use, searches may retrieve no results or thousands. Searches with general terms often return many results..
  • Relevance: Varies. Results may be completely unrelated to your topic. For example, a search for 'Philadelphia' returns records for every book published by the University of Pennsylvania Press (located in 'Philadelphia') regardless of whether the work is about Philadelphia.
  • Flexibility: High: Terms can be combined in complex ways to design effective searches.

    JSTOR Search Tips

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