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POSC 413: Keywords

International Political Economy


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!

For example, like below, concept mapping may be an early brainstorming activity. Brainstorming aspects of the larger topic of voting might lead you to the area you are most interested in: the intersection of media and voting. Perhaps you generate your keywords (and alternate keywords) in the concept map. Or perhaps, you prefer to generate a cleaner looking list, like on the right below. If you have a research question already started, you can identify your keywords and come up with alternate words, or you use that research question to start your concept map. It really is what works best for your brain. Just make sure you take the time to generate multiple keywords options and then write it down somewhere!

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?"

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

Now we need to 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. You never know which one will be best for a particular database or website until you start looking! What works well in one, might not go over very well in another.

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