Skip to main content

Basic Library Research & Writing: 3. Choosing Keywords


Keywords and Synonyms Video

If your instructor has asked you to watch library videos and take quizzes, you need to do that through the Information Literacy course in Blackboard. The course should be listed under your Blackboard list of "My Courses" in the left navigation menu.

Choosing Keywords

I. Write your topic 

After you identify your research topic, write it out in the form of a phrase:

Example: Government whistleblowers should not be prosecuted for exposing wrongdoing.

II. Select the most important words in your phase:

Select the most important words that appear in your topic sentence:

Government, whistleblowers, prosecuted, exposing, wrongdoing

Note that I chose what seemed to me to be the most important words.

III. Identify your keywords

Once you have identified the important words, you then need to think of other forms of the words (such as plurals, adjectives, and adverbs), synonyms, and related words. Write all that you can think of down. All of these words will be your keywords. For example, for the word government you may also want to think of other forms of the word such as governmental. These could include plural, other verb tenses, or adverbs/adjectives. For synonyms and related words, you might think about words such as federal, politics, democracy.

Librarian's Hint: To think about relevent keywords, I like to think about different words I might expect to see in an article on my topic.

If you are having problems thinking of other words, use your textbook or search for synonyms and related words in the library's reference databases.  Or you can use thesauri and dictionaries in the library or online, such as or Additionally, as you do your research you may find more, and possibly better keywords. Please see below for more examples from the topic above.

whistleblowers: whistle-blower, whistle blower, whistleblowing, leakers, leaking, leaks, secrets, classified, traitor

prosecuted: prosecute, legal, illegal, charged, criminal, crime, innocent, constitutional

exposing: expose, reveal, disclose, divulge, revealing, publish, leak, secrets

wrongdoing: secrets, wrongs, wrong, illegal, crimes, criminal, unconstitutional


-Mark Allan