Skip to main content

Salisbury Americorps Youth Civics Council: Keywords


KEYWORDS are the parts of a research question/topic/statement that carry the most meaning. They specify what it is exactly that you are interested in researching.

  • Watch this short video to see how a librarian deconstructs a research question into keywords that she will then use as SEARCH TERMS to find relevant information on her topic.
  • We will then use this keyword exercise sheet to duplicate these methods using your own research topic.
  • Once everyone has a good handle on how to extract and brainstorm keywords, we'll use them to search the library catalog and databases for academic resources that will support your idea.

Is your topic too broad? Too narrow?

Is your topic too broad? Be specific! What do you want the program to do? Why do you want the program? Who is your target audience?

  • "I want to create a program for LGBTQ folks."
  • >> "I want to create a program for that educates LGBTQ folks youth about physical and mental health."

Is your topic too narrow? Take away some of those specifics without compromising the topic's core.

  • "I want to create a program that educates LGBTQ youth about physical and mental health."
  • >> "I want to create a program that educates the LGBTQ youth community about physical and mental health."

Using keywords to narrow or broaden your search results:

  • The more synonyms you have for each keyword, the more search results you will get.
  • Look at the first couple pages of search results. If too many resources are irrelevant to your needs, take away the keywords that seemed to catch those results, or add keywords that better relate to your topic.

Using a thesaurus for keyword synonyms

As shown in the video, brainstorming synonyms of the keywords in your research question is the best way to develop more keywords. More keywords that still relate to one another = more chances of catching the information you need when searching a database, catalog, or even the internet.

Can't think of any synonyms? Try looking up the word in a thesaurus. Just be careful to only take note of synonyms that still share the same meaning with your original keyword.

Example: Your research topic involves LGBTQ rights. When you look up "rights" in a thesaurus, you see words like: privileges, civil rights, human rights, truths, honesties, moralities. The first three words sound close to what we mean by the term "rights," while the last three do not.

Find the Thesaurus tool in Microsoft Word by going to the Review tab. Click on the word you want to look up a synonym for, then hit the Thesaurus button. A tool will open up on the right side of the screen. You can also find this tool by right-clicking a word in your document.

Find the thesaurus in Word under the Review tab.


Or, go to the website (link below) to look up words outside of a Word document.

From Question to Keyword Search

Example from video: Research Statement --> Keywords

What can colleges do to promote recycling on campus?

promote            recycling                  campus            

advocate           sustainability            schools

encourage         waste reduction       colleges

+ program


Keyword Development Exercise