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Distance Learning

Searching with Keywords

The most important thing to realize about the databases is that they do not work like Google:

Google interprets. Databases match.

Google is great at interpreting your search terms! You can type whole questions or search phrases into Google and get millions of results.

Take a look at this one, a popular argument paper topic, technology is destroying society. Google that, and you get over 11 million hits:


 That same thing in Academic Search Complete?

No results. What's going on?

It does not mean there are not articles in the database about technology and its effect on society, only that we are not searching for them the right way.

Whenever you type something into the database and hit search, the database looks for articles that match what you typed. So in the example above, the database is looking for an article that saysexactly, "technology is destroying society," and it can't find one.

So what is the solution? Think in keywords!

Pick out the most important words or phrases about your topic. What words do experts use about your topic? Is there more than one word or phrase for the same concept?Searching Google or Wikipedia for your topic can be a good way to come up with keywords.

Need help with keywords? Contact a librarian, or try this UT Libraries tool to help you brainstorm keywords.

No one combination of keywords will bring you back everything on a topic. You may have to do several searches in the database using different combinations of keywords to make sure you're not missing some resources.

For this topic, our most important keywords are technology and society. But those words are too general - we want specific words!

In this example, you could brainstorm specific types of technologies (Internet, social media, cell phones, texting, etc.), specific ways they negatively affect society (distraction, low grades, car accidents, cyberbullying, etc.), and specific segments of society they may affect (students, teenagers, children, etc.).

Brainstorming for Keywords Worksheet

Worksheet on brainstorming keywords

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