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English: Keywords

Resources for English coursework. Includes information about academic research, databases, and citation styles.

What are keywords

Keywords are the main words/concepts found in your research question(s), thesis statement, and body paragraphs of your paper.

Keywords are your search terms in a library database or Google search. 

Using keywords to search will always retrieve more results than phrases or sentences.

The more you read about your topic, the more keywords you will discover.  Having a large variety of keywords to choose from is important to allow searching to be flexible and will aid in finding the best piece of evidence to support you claim or introduce new information.

Keyword Handouts

Choosing Keywords

Boolean Operators

Use Boolean Operators and, or, not  when searching keywords.

3 Steps to Choosing Keywords

1. Extract single words or short phrases.

Do not use complete sentences or complex phrases. Leave out minor words such as articles ("a," "an," or "the") and prepositions or verb phrases ("on," "in," or "going to"). 

Use nouns (person, place, or thing) as keywords. Avoid verbs (action words) and use adjectives (descriptive words) sparingly.

Avoid keywords that assign subjective value/judgment or weasel words: 

  • Subjective value/judgment: pro/con, benefits, effects, dangers of, negative/positive, facts, etc.
  • Weasel words: experts or people say, award-winning, natural, improved

2. Experiment with different synonyms or discipline specific vocabulary terms.

Think of synonyms (words that have the same meaning as another word) of your keywords. For example, a synonym for trash is garbage or refuse or waste.  The medical term (or discipline specific term) for a heart attack is myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infraction.

3. Think of related terms to describe your topic.

What are some other topics or areas related to your thesis? These may be worthy of consideration if you are having trouble finding strong keywords or if you want to further refine your research focus. For example, some related terms to "heart attack" are "heart disease," "cardiovascular health" or even "obesity" The related terms may be more specific or less specific than the original terms in your thesis. Each combination will change the number and type of your search results.

Types of Keywords


Draft thesis statement:
Despite cost or perceived need, institutions of higher learning should have clear policies and procedures in place to prevent and manage sexual violence on campuses, including prevention programs, faculty and staff training, and appropriate public safety measures.

Key Concepts (Synonyms)

College campus (university) (community college) (higher education) (institution of higher learning)

Sexual violence (sexual assault) (rape) (sexual misconduct)

Related concepts

Title IX

Policy & Procedures

Campus security

Cost for rape prevention programs

College counseling

Legal responsibility – due process

Campus buy-in

 Student, faculty, staff training and sexual assault