Deciding which keywords to use as you search has a major impact on the relevance of what you find. Your background knowledge of the topic will help you choose keywords. You can also glance through reference lists, contents pages and abstracts to see the words used by subject experts.
Using keywords to find information
Start with your assignment title, then expand your keywords to include similar or related words. Decide where to search for the information you need, and use all available search strategies and filters.
Using your existing knowledge
Imagine you were set the task: "Evaluate the effectiveness of one strategy to combat plastics in the ocean." In the box below write a list of the keywords you might use to look for information on this topic. Write as many relevant words as you can think of. When you have finished, click 'check' to compare your list of words to our list of words.
Note: There are many many different words you could choose. Answers are not wrong or right, but some words will be more effective than others.
Browsing Reference Lists
Below is a reference list from a source on the topic of Ocean Plastics. How many potentially useful keywords can you find in the titles listed? Look for types of plastic and different contexts of research on the topic. Click on the words you think are useful. You can open a full-screen version of the activity.
Refining your search
As well as refining your search with options and filters, you can also alter the keywords you enter.
Shortening a word and adding an asterisk may return more results. Market* will return results including marketing, marketers, markets.
Searching for an expression in speech marks will return results which include the full expression. This often improves the relevance of material. Try searching internet of things then "internet of things" to see the effect.
Adding words such as AND, OR, NOT between your keywords will change what is returned. For example, network NOT internet will return results on networks which do not mention the internet.
See tips from The Guardian on How to use search like a pro. The 10 tips are given with examples from Google, but can also be used with other search engines.
Click on the image to see a full-screen version of this infographic on keywords.
As you search for information consider the following questions:
Have you thought about a variety of possible keywords to search with?
Have you done recommended background reading to discover useful keywords on your topic?
Have you explored contents pages, abstracts, index pages and reference lists of available texts for useful keywords?
Have you tried advanced search features such as *, "...", AND OR NOT, to refine your searches?