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ACCT 248 McDermott: Choosing Keywords

Getting familiar with legal research using the HeinOnline Database and Google Scholar

Starting with Keywords

What are keywords? Keywords are the most important words in a research statement or question. They are the words that create significance or meaning.

Why use keywords? Keywords are important in research because they are highly useful to facilitate an online search for information. They open the doors to vast amounts of information. Keywords may also be referred to as “search terms.”

Keyword Development

Look at the assignment questions to identify relevant information for queries:

Parties involved

Laws involved

Legal doctrines


And identify relevant information for refining results:


Courts/Legislative bodies involved 

State or Country

Section Type

Boolean Operators

Once you have identified the search terms you think are relevant, combine them into an improved query through the use of "AND" "OR" "NOT" Boolean Operators. the computer recognized these capitalized terms as an instruction to search it's documents differently.

"AND" operator results in sources that include both terms. For example, while the query: Diet Coke health might return information on diet and heath (ignoring the term Coke), or Coke and health (the incorrect soda); a search: "Diet Coke" AND health would ensure the sources find not only articles on Diet Coke, but that they will include its health considerations.

Keep in Mind

The goal of your search is to find specific, relevant results. Pay attention to the number of results your search returns. 

Consider these questions:

  1. Given my topic, is this too many/few results?
  2. To get more specific, relevant results, can I make my search terms more/less specific?
  3. Does my search include a term that may not fit the date of the case (hint, if you're looking for a case involving a Towson University Professor in 1972, Towson was called "Towson State College" at the time and your search term "Towson University" won't yield any results)?

In legal research, you often look for very specific issues. Consider the difference between terms like "guns" and "Second Amendment"

  1. Which is going to return more results
  2. In a legal context, which is more likely to provide more specific, relevant results?

NOTE: If using Hein (and many other databases) make sure to put search terms in quotes! 

More Keyword Information