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Veteran Student Library Resource Guide

Your field guide to the MSU Library

What are Keywords?

Unlike Google and other web searches, databases work best when you enter keywords instead of full phrases or questions.

  • Keywords represent the major concepts of your topic
  • Learn new vocabulary or keywords from your initial search results
  • Try variations of a keyword, or synonyms.
  • When you find a worthy source, get additional keywords from the title, abstract, and subject headings.

Identifying main concepts within your research question/topic.

Research Question: How does lack of access to food effect child development?

Main Concepts: lack of access to food, child development (words like how, does, and, to, etc. are not important)

There are a few types of keywords that you can work with, depending on your topic.

  • Narrow - can you use a more focused word or idea? (ex. brain development, physical health)
  • Broad - what is the big picture idea behind your topic? (ex. Wellness, Health)
  • Related - are there concepts that closely relate to your topic? (ex. hunger, nutrition)
  • Similar - are there synonyms for your topic/concepts? (ex. hunger, food insecurity, food security, food desert)

Keyword Tips

  • Experiment:
    • Try different search terms
    • Go into Advanced Search to search by topic, such as "nuclear power," then create another subject box to add a second term of "history" or other terms that make sense for your interest.
    • Most databases will allow you to check various boxes to manipulate your search terms (dates of publication, types of sources, whether or not there are illustrations, etc.).
  • Identify Alternative Terms:
    • Try popular terms such as "fracking"
    • See if the catalog leads you to a formal term, such as "hydraulic fracturing."
    • If nothing comes up for your term, search a basic database such as Academic Search Complete or look around in Google or even Wikipedia to see if you can find some alternative terms to use.
  • Browse by Subject: 
    • Perform an initial search in CatSearch. From the results page, explore subject categories on the right

Link Keywords Effectively (Boolean Searching)

Boolean operators are words you use to link your search terms together when searching for resources. 

Use them to increase or decrease the number of search results to find what you need

Boolean Operator Example Reason to Use
AND women AND military Searches for items that talk about both concepts together, and to DECREASE RESULTS.
OR women OR females  Searches for items that talk about either concept individually, and to INCREASE RESULTS.
NOT women NOT men To eliminate terms and concepts and to DECREASE RESULTS.