Tutorial: Keyword Searching

Preparing A Search

Preparing for a Keyword Search

Before you begin a keyword search, think about your topic.  Decide on some words (terms) to express the most important concepts. 

  • Ask yourself, "What should all of my resources be about, in order to be useful?"
  • Only significant words that express the subject matter should be used as keywords, not trivial or comparative words such as "of", "compare", "effect", "reaction", etc.
    • Although these words add context to you, to a computer they're just another set of letters to search for.  If those specific words don't appear, the item won't be found.
    • These words add no value to your search, and will cause you to lose useful records.
  • Remember that keyword searching only finds items that contain these words, so be sure each word is important.

Next, think of additional terms which might express the same concepts. 

  • Make a list of all these potential keywords.
  • Keep in mind that the system searches for the exact letters you type, and not the general ideas they express.  
  • The system doesn't think. So you have to plan for single and plural, more specific and more general terms, nouns, adjectives, and verbs, etc.

If you do this work before you begin your search, you'll be ready to create many different searches using the list you prepare.

  • This will make it easier when one of your searches doesn't get the results you want; just move on to the next search.
  • Write down anything that comes to mind; you may not actually use all these terms, but they're there if you need them.
  • Don't try to think of every possibility, either; just try to get the important ones.
  • You'll get more ideas as you view your results.


Search engines are getting "smarter", so it seems like they're doing the thinking for you. They often automatically search for alternate terms for you.  This is a great time-saver.

But don't be fooled.  They're not really smarter, because they don't think.  Really they're more "sophisticated".  The designers have built in a system for identifying synonyms.  It's still helpful for you to think about your search terms, especially when your results are too broad or too few for your needs.


For an example, let's use the topic "Are pregnancy rates rising among teenage girls in Canada?".

  • The main concepts are "pregnancy", "teenage", "Canada".
  • "Rates" is too limiting, and "girls" is redundant when referring to pregnant teenagers.
  • You should be interested in any information dealing with teenagers, pregnancy, and Canada.

Now we need to think of other ways of expressing our terms.  Any of the terms in the chart below would be effective.


pregnancy teenage canada
Keywords for "Pregnancy Rates Among Teenage Girls in Canada"
pregnancies teenagers canadian
pregnant teen(s) north america
baby adolescent(s) ontario
babies adolescence british columbia
infant youth toronto
birthrate high school vancouver