6.1 Identifying & Brainstorming Keywords

We don’t always know what keywords will give us the best results until we try them out in the database, but having a robust list of keywords will give you options when searching.  Take some time to brainstorm before you begin searching, but also remember that you can and should add to your keywords as you find articles and learn more about the language used in the discourse around the topic.  Focus on your key concepts and your background research to get started brainstorming keywords.

Consider the following when brainstorming keywords:

  • Use single words or exact phrases. For example: “voter turnout” is an exact phrase.
  • Think about keywords from your background research and keywords that people who write about this topic would use.
  • Synonyms as well as related terms make great keywords.
  • Keyword selection is sometimes trial and error. You may not know what keywords will get the best results until you try.
  • As you research and learn more about the topic, you can add to the keyword list.

Look at the table for an example of alternative terms for each key concept.

Keyword list for Key Concepts
Key Concept 1: “voter turnout” Key Concept 2: “underserved communities”
“voter suppression” “low-income”
“voter registration” “under-resourced communities”
election “African Americans”
“polling location” “communities of color”
redistricting “black Americans”
“voter identification” “underserved population”

Notice that “voter suppression” and “voter registration” represent different aspects of the same topic. Using these different terms will pull up different articles in a database search.

Also notice that the phrase “underserved communities” could apply to many different populations or groups.

Keywords are incredibly important to your search strategy, but we have one more step to go before we are ready for the databases. On the next page we will discuss how to put keywords together to create search statements and maximize our results list potential.