The Research Process: 1b. Identify Keywords

A step-by-step guide for getting started in the research process.


Make a list to keep track of keywords on your topic. Start by listing any synonyms you know and then add new ones you uncover in your search. Keep this list handy when you are researching.

The keywords you use can have a huge impact on your search results. Using the “right” words will speed up the research process, while the “wrong” words can bring to it to a screeching halt.

If the keywords you tried don't give you the needed results, try using other keywords from your list or use the search strategies listed under Step 2.

Practice Exercise

Need some help identifying keywords? Try the attached exercise.

Identifying Keywords

Before you begin your research, you need to identify keywords on your topic. Key terminology may be found by scanning:

If you are still struggling, then try these suggestions:

  • Use a print thesaurus, Microsoft Office's thesaurus tool, or Google "(Your Word) synonyms" to identify synonyms
  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe the picture
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend

wordle on keywords related to environment

Keyword Exercise

Try this exercise to expand your list of keywords for searching! Place your initial topic in the furthest left box, then continue on to develop additional search terms and keywords for your research question.

  Initial Topic Similar Terms Broader Terms Narrower Terms Related Terms
Example Kangaroo Kangaroos
Mammalia (class)
Marsupialia (order)
Macropodidae (family)
Macropus (genus)
Giganteus (species)
Eastern Gray Kangaroo

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