Defining your topic - keywords

  • The first essential step to finding good sources of information (including books, journals and online resources) is to think about keywords for searching.

    Start by reading your question carefully (if you have been given one) or think about your area of research.

    Check the meanings of any unfamiliar words or concepts in a dictionary.

    Identify the different concepts or elements of your topic.

    Make a list of relevant keywords for each element. Here are some tips:

    • think of broader (more general) and narrower (more specific) terms. Broader terms might include the context (see examples below)
    • use synonyms and related terms (other words with the same or similar meaning)
    • include any geographical keywords needed (e.g. country or city name)
    • identify and include any key authors or theorists
    • include any relevant scientific tests/theories or legislation
    • use both abbreviations and the full version (e.g. UN and United Nations)
    • consider if case studies are useful and include ‘case study’ or specific name of case study if known

    Here are some examples:

    Topic: Children and gardening (in the context of occupational therapy)
    The main concepts or elements are:
    • children
    • gardening
    • occupational therapy
    Based on these concepts a list of keywords (search terms) can be made:
    • children, child, boys, girls, young people
    • gardening, outdoor activities, play, recreation, physical, extra-curricular
    • occupational therapy, wellbeing, benefits, health, recovery, rehabilitation
    Topic: Open space in the city - a waste of space? (in the context of urban design)
    The main concepts or elements are:
    • open space
    • city
    • waste of space - is it, or isn't it?
    • urban design
    Based on these concepts a list of keywords (search terms) can be made:
    • open space, park, square, green
    • city, urban, town
    • waste of space, land use, shortage, housing, economic benefit, recreation, health, wellbeing, leisure, social, community, crime prevention
    • urban design, layout, sustainable, planning, regeneration