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 if you want 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.
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:
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:
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 was Spanish 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.
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.
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 that is much longer than your starting list. You will want to continue to edit your keyword list as you search information. You may notice that your topic changes over time as a result of this process.