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To determine what keywords to use when searching a Library database, Google, or Google Scholar, write out your question on a piece of paper and then underline the words in your question that best express what it is you are looking for.  For example, if this is my research question:

What is service-excellence in post-secondary institutions?

I would focus in on the bolded words:
What is service excellence in post-secondary institutions?

Then, I would construct my search as follows:
Service excellence AND post-secondary institutions

If I’m not happy with my initial search results, or if I think I need to do a bit more of a thorough search on this topic, I could think of synonyms for my search terms, as this might provide me with additional resources for my topic.

Instead of post-secondary institutions, I could also try:

  • Service excellence AND universities
  • Service excellence AND colleges
  • Service excellence AND higher education
  • Service excellence AND post-secondary education

So, I could do four more additional searches that are similar to my first search, and get just as relevant results for my research question.

As you look through your search results, pay particular attention to the language the authors are using as well as the subject headings some articles will provide, as these can give you ideas for keywords to incorporate into future searches.

*Remember, you want to find good information on your topic, and in order to find good information, plan to spend time searching.

For more detail on the various search strategies you can use, see the following pages in the Library’s Infoquest Tutorial:

Want more information?

Please click on the DEMN linking research with practice research question to see an example of how a real research question was broken down into searchable keywords.

If you're still unclear about choosing keywords or setting up your search structure, please speak with a librarian.

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