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Sociology Guide: Keyword Searching

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! Searches for a computer vs. a Dell vs. a desktop will get you very different results, after all. Below are a couple of ways to approach coming up with alternate ways of thinking about your topic, though there are certainly other ways to do it as well. This isn't an exercise to do in your head, write it out!

Picture - Voting Sticker

Sticker saying "I Voted!" in English, Chinese, and Spanish.
CC BY-NC-ND Dave Schumaker

Keyword Exercise

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

Keywords:   media    voting    young people

Brainstorm some of the different ways we can 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. What works well in one database, might not work in another.


You can use the worksheet below to explore options for your own topic.