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SHB Oostburg High School: Starting Your Research

Tamala Szyman

Finding keywords

A keyword is a word that you commonly use to describe your subject.   When you search a catalog or database, your search results are a list of books or articles that match the keywords you used.  Finding the right words is the "key" to successful research!

Ways to brainstorm keywords:

  • Ask yourself questions about your topic and write down words that you use. 
  • Do some background reading on your topic--from encyclopedias, news articles, text books, etc. Add words you find to your list.
  • Consult a thesaurus or dictionary for synonyms for your terms, such as Bartleby Reference.
  • As you begin searching, look at the "subject terms" or other terminology in the records you find. Use these terms in new searches.

Choosing a topic

Use this checklist as you consider topics:

___  Did you review the expectations for the paper/project?  Does your topic meet the expectations?

___  Is your topic interesting to you?

___  Will you be able to find enough quality sources on this topic?  (see video below)

___ If the paper/project requires you to write at length--let's say 5 pages--ask yourself if you can write 5 pages of quality content on your topic?

As you consider these questions, do some preliminary reading about your topic.  Even brief background reading (CQ Researcher/Wikipedia) will help you understand some of the basic concepts, terms and scope of your topic.

Picking Your Topic IS Research!

Source: NCSU Libraries

Brainstorming topics / background research

These sources will give you an overview of a topic and some ideas of ways that you can pursue the topic in more detail.

Other resources for background information

Things to learn from background research

Use background research to locate key information on your topic, including the following:

  • Key words:  what words are commonly associated with your topic?

  • Names of organizations and people associated with your topic:  Is there a professional association that might have information regarding your topic?  Are there authors that frequently write on your topic?

  • Important dates associated with your topic:  Is anything about your topic date-specific, such as the date of enactment of key legislation or the date of a scientific breakthrough?

  • Web sites that may have information about your topic:  is there a affiliated web site of a government agency or a professional association that could lead you to other sources?

  • Sources cited in the bibliography of your "background" article:  are there scholarly sources such as books or journal articles that may be used in your paper?