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BIOL 415/416/420: Research and Readings: Keywords & Searching

Keyword Generation

Understanding what you should type in the search box of any search engine/database is always harder than it sounds. It seems like it should be simple - like pulling on your socks in the morning - but in truth taking an abstract-length concept and distilling it down to just 3 or 4 keywords is actually very difficult! 

When brainstorming for keywords, consider Googling synonyms, related terms, and subtopics related to your research question. You will also find more potential keywords as you search through the literature.

The resources below were created to give you some tips and tricks and pointers about how to refine your searching such that you get exactly the sort of results you are looking for without having to wade through lots of irrelevant search results that have no relevance to you.

Search Tips

Booleans: AND, OR, NOT

  • AND combines two search words together. Both must appear in your article, narrowing your results. 
  • OR allows you to search for synonyms or like terms. Only one of the terms must appear in your article, broadening your results. 
  • NOT removes a specific term from your results.

Quotation marks

  • Phrases stick together as one keyphrase. "climate change"; "blue whale"; "Cretaceous period"


  • Add to the end of a root word to find all words that include all words that include that root term. volcan* - volcano, volcanic, volcanology, volcanism


  • Usually found on the left
  • Narrow by subject, date, or peer-reviewed
  • For this particular project, you want to cast as wide a net as possible (at least at first), so you likely won't use too many limiters. 

Search Techniques

    • Phrase Searching:



    • Boolean Operators: