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SOCI 101 (Illig): Find Keywords


Keywords are the first (and, often, most skipped) step in your research. We can talk about the same issues using completely different words; if you only identify one of those words to search, you might be drilling down in the wrong spot! Below are a couple of ways to approach coming up with alternate ways of thinking about your topic. This isn't an exercise to do in your head, write it out!

Concept Mapping


If you get stuck coming up with some alternates, a thesaurus might be a good place to start. Just remember that connotation matters, so just because something is a synonym doesn't mean it's the right one for your search. A cottage in the forest sounds like a lovely vacation, but a cabin in the woods is a horror movie.

Keyword Exercise

Research Question: "How does media affect voting in young people?"

For the research question above, the first step is to identify the most important parts of the question, the keywords, that get to the base of what we what to research.

Keywords:   media    voting    young people

The second step is to brainstorm some of the different ways to think about these key concepts. Those alternate keywords can be synonyms, broader, or more narrow terms.

For example: media might generate a list like: Voting might generate a list like:

And young people might generate a list like this:

  • television
    • news
    • talk shows
  • internet
  • social media
    • twitter
    • facebook
    • instagram
  • social networking
  • campaigns
  • political campaigns
    • advertisement
  • election
  • vote
  • civic engagement
  • polls
  • students
    • college students
    • university students
    • undergraduates
    • high school students
  • youth
  • young adults
  • millennials 
  • 18-24 years old

Television is one type of media, and a talk show is one type of television program; the terms get more narrow. Civic engagement is a broader category under which voting might rest. And youth is just another way of saying young people. All of these are legitimate ways of coming up with alternate keywords.