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WIDMAYER WSH ENG 102 : Critical Writing, Reading and Research

Why use Keywords?

Despite all the advances in web and database searching, computers still don't do well with meaning.

When you type a word into a search box, the computer looks only for the word you typed, not the concept you had in mind. To you, that word is an idea. To the computer, that word is a bunch of letters.

The keywords you choose have a direct and measurable effect on the results you get back. If you aren't finding useful sources with your current keywords, don't give up! Even a small change in your keywords can lead to a big change in results.

Define your Topic

The first step in thinking of keywords is to define your topic. Try writing your topic down as a sentence or a question.

  • Think of keywords to describe each concept involved in your topic.
  • Think of more than one, in case your first choice does not work.
  • Focus on synonyms and related terms. What are other ways to state your topic?
  • Is there a specific word that will describe an abstract concept in your topic? 
  • Think about your topic broadly, then think about it more narrowly. 
  • Write down as many keywords as you can think of and then start searching.

If you do the research process correctly, you'll discover new keywords and concepts along the way!


Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic.  Should parents be held legally responsible for their child's obesity?

Concept 1:  childhood obesity
   Alternative terms:  overweight, children, adolescent(s), adolescence, malnutrition, epidemic, health

Concept 2:  prevention & legislation
   Alternative terms:  Health promotion, child health services, nutrition policy, role of government, regulation, legal

Concept 3:  parental responsibility
   Alternative terms:  parents, negligence, nurturing, raising children, parenting

Turning Keywords into Subject Headings

Librarians categorize information.  Like any discipline, we do that using a defined vocabulary.  In academic libraries, we use the Library of Congress Subject Headings to identify what a particular piece of information is mainly about.  

These subject headings define what information the book, video or article contains.  Using subject headings and combinations of subject headings will help you further drill down to the best information for your research paper.

Keywords Worksheet



Your Friend the Synonym (& don't forget the Antonym)

Natural disaster
Tropical storm

World or global economy
International commerce
International business