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*Research and Writing*

Welcome! This guide will help you develop your research and writing skills by providing foundational knowledge of the iterative research and writing process as well as manageable steps for breaking down and navigating college research projects.

Still Struggling?

Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful.  Contact staff at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.


Keywords are the main words or phrases you will use to search for sources on your topic.  You can generally identify your first keywords by selecting the major terms from your research question.  You will use these terms as you search the library catalog, databases, and the web.  By creating a list of keywords, you'll be able to construct better and more efficient searches. 

For example, take the research question "Why has the acceptance of body art increased in American society over time?"  The keywords for this question are in bold in the text below:

Why has the acceptance of body art increased in American society over time?

Keywords: body art, American society

Three Steps to Choosing Keywords

1. Extract single keywords or short phrases.

As seen in our example above, you want to leave out articles ("a," "an," and "the"), prepositions or verb phrases (like "on," "in," "going to"), verbs (action words), and both adverbs and adjectives (descriptive words) when selecting keywords.  Instead, focus on the nouns in your sentence.

It's important to note that you do not want to use complete sentences when you start searching for sources.  Catalogs and databases struggle to identify relevant terms from full sentences, which is why you have to isolate those words in advance.

2. Experiment with synonyms.

Try to think of other words that have the same meaning as your keywords.  For example, if you started with the phrase "global warming," you might also want to try searching for "climate change."  An online or print thesaurus can help identify useful synonyms.

3. Brainstorm related terms or subtopics.

It helps to think of other words and phrases that relate to your topic.  This can be especially helpful if you are having trouble identifying good keywords or if you need to refine your research focus.  For example, if your initial topic was global warming, you might want to consider searching "acid rain," "air pollution," or "biodiversity."  Related terms are often more specific or less specific than your initial search terms.  Each combination will change the number, type, and relevance of your search results.

Three Steps to Choosing Keywords Example

1. Extract single keywords or short phrases.

Let's work with the keywords identified at the top of this page: body art, American society

2. Experiment with synonyms.

American society: America, United States

3. Brainstorm related terms or subtopics.

Body art: tattoo(s), tattoo parlor, tattoo artist(s), body piercing, piercing(s), performance art

American society: American men, American women, millennials

Note: The concept of time is important in the provided research question.  While no specific time period is provided, it might be useful to try adding search terms like "nineteenth century," "twentieth century," and "twenty-first century."  Searching for time periods is tricky, but it does sometimes yield useful results, particularly if you're trying to show how something has changed over time.