Guide to Library Research
Mary Livermore Library
Unit 2: Refining a Topic

Developing Keywords
Once you have selected a topic, you need to develop a set of keywords—words that describe the topic or aspects of the topic. Later, you will use these keywords to find information on your topic.


Example: You have chosen to write a paper on "college students' alcohol use and grade-point averages."

Start by stating your topic as a question: Is there relationship between college students' alcohol use and grade-point averages?

 What are the main concepts in your question?

  1. alcohol
  2. grade-point average
  3. college students

 Are there other words for these concepts?

  1. alcohol: alcoholism, drinking, substance abuse, binge drinking
  2. grade-point average: grades, achievement, GPA, graduation, test scores
  3. college students: university, higher education, undergraduates, freshmen

These words are your keywords, which you will use to test the viability of your topic and to search for information.

Note: You will want to keep a running list of your keywords and check them off as you try them. That way, you will not waste time searching for the same keywords twice.