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How to Conduct Academic Research

This guide provides an introduction to the research process.

A keyword is defined as

" the most important word in a title or sentence", while a keyword search is

"a system of searching a database by using combinations of special words connected with the subject of the search".

The keywords you use have a direct impact on the results of your research. Before you can begin searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Key terminology can be easily be found by scanning: 

  • Your textbooks or other coursework
  • Background research about your topicmagnifying glass
  • Bibliographies (usually found at the end of books and articles)

If you are still searching for good keywords:

  • Use a thesaurus to find synonyms or related terms.
  • Try this keyword generator from the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Brainstorm keywords with your professor, a classmate, or a SC4 librarian.



Text: keyword: Stevenson, Janet. Dictionary of Information and Library Management. vol. 2nd ed, A&C Black Business Information and Development, 2006. EBSCOhost,

It is vital to know the differences between keywords and subjects when searching.

Keyword searches are very similar to Google searches; whatever words you searched will turn up in your list of results, regardless of where your searched words are on the page.

Subject searches, however, will only generate results in which the searched word appears in the subject field.


The charts below will help you distinguish between keyword searching and subject searching.

It is also important to note that keyword searches can be used almost anywhere - searching library databases, OneSearch, the library catalog, or the internet - while subject searches are best used when searching the library databases or the library catalog.






Images: "Keywords vs Subjects." Database Search Tips, MIT, Accessed 24 May 2017.

brainstorming and selecting keywords

primary sources infographic


secondary sources infographic


"File:Primary Sources.png." Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 26 Nov 2016, 03:30 UTC. 7 Dec 2018, 00:38 <>. 

"File:Secondary Sources.png." Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 25 Nov 2016, 09:24 UTC. 7 Dec 2018, 00:38 <>.

Both licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.