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SPAN 3240 - Introduction to the Study of Spanish Linguistics

A course-specific guide created to aid students in the Spanish 3240 class.

Keyword Choices - Why They Matter

Brainstorming Keywords

Whether you have your topic pinned down or not, choosing your keywords intentionally will make all the difference in your search.

Keywords are literal words pulled from an idea, topic, or research question to use to type into search bars. Think of keywords as bait - you need the proper bait to catch the appropriate fish. How you think of and use your keywords will determine the kind of results you receive. 


Keywords can be words from your initial question, topic statement or thesis sentence.

For example:

A question such as “How was language used as a perversion of power in Spain in the 1800s?” can be broken down into the following keywords or key phrases:

  • Spanish Language

  • Spanish Linguistics

  • Spain

  • Power

  • 1800-1900

To get the results we are looking for, we will want to narrow our search in a couple of ways. The best way is to think of other related keywords. Keywords can also be related concepts or ideas. One can refer to the same idea or topic in several different ways, thereby expanding or narrowing their search. 

For example: The concept “Spanish Language” is related to the following other concepts:

  • Spanish culture

  • Spanish speakers

  • Spanish society

  • Spanish history

Next Steps

Here’s a quick method to help you identify useful keywords for your research topic.

1. Make a list

Start with a keyword list in a text file (Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Mac Pages) or in your notebook.

List any words that you can think of off the top of your head that relate to your topic. 

For example, if my topic is How Spanish was used to exert power in Spain in the 1800s, I might come upon specific names of rulers in Spain in the 1800s, or other relevant words.

  • History of Spain

  • Ferdinand VII

  • Charles IV

  • Spanish empire

But these are not necessarily the best or the only words to search on. I need to add more words to this list. There are probably better ones out there.

2. Do a bit of preliminary research.

Start with Google. Don’t expect it to be perfect. This is the discovery phase.

3. Gather keywords from webpages

As you read through websites, you will discover new and relevant concepts to add to your keyword list. 

You can also mentally ask yourself the five W’s.

Who is relevant to your topic?

            Are there any artists? Cultural or political groups?

What is relevant to your topic?

            Are there any specifics to your topic? Specific instruments? Genres?

Where is this relevant?

            Are there regions within Cuba that you can focus on?

When is this relevant?

            Are there specific dates or events?

Why or How is this relevant?

            Is there a relevant impact or outcome because of this topic?

For example, you may discover new keywords.

  • Specific names

  • Specific historical events

  • Specific genres of music

You will get a very quick sense of the main concepts or ideas of your topic, which can help you focus your research accordingly. By gathering more specific terms, you may find yourself automatically narrowing down your topic, too.

4. Final keyword list

You will end up with a list of keywords much longer than your starting list. You will want to continue to edit your keyword list as you search for information. You may notice that your topic changes over time as a result of this process.

Generating Ideas for a Research Topic

You have been asked to write or present about a research topic, but how do you come up with a topic? Here is a process to help.

  1. Think about what has been discussed in class. What are some broad topics that immediately come to mind?
  2. Skim your textbook, course readings, and notes for these topics. What do you already know about these topics?
  3. What would you like to know more about each topic? Phrase it as a question.

Selecting a Topic

Now that you have a few broad topics, you need to select one that is appropriate for the assignment, has enough information available, and will hold your interest. For each of the topics you have generated, search a few keywords in Google, Library Search, and Google Scholar.

  • Is there a lot of information available or only a few sources?
  • What words are being used in titles and abstracts (article summaries) to describe the topic?
  • Are there names, dates, places, things, etc. that are repeatedly mentioned?
  • Is there anything more specific about a topic that sounds interesting?


For help using Google, Library Search, and Google Scholar, check out these guides: