Keywords and Terms

Keywords are important for several reasons: First they can help you find define search terms that will improve your results when using search engines, databases and the online card catalog; Second, key words or key terms are very useful in creating coherence when you're polishing up the final draft of your paper.

In most cases use a combination of keyword and controlled vocabulary searching.

  1. Use keyword searching to explore selected database and learn how that particular resource has defined the topic.
  2. Look for the terms "topics", "subject headings", "thesaurus", "descriptors" which indicate the terms that the indexer has used to describe the research topic.
  3. Then re-search the database using these terms. Usually this will yield items that have a greater relevance to your topic.
    WARNING: Not all databases have great controlled vocabulary, so try it both ways and compare your results.

Database and Internet Searches

If we were to conduct a web search for a paper about sex and free speech, we might get mixed results depending on the database. If we conducted a search on the WWW using the terms "sex" and "free speech", our search would include mostly pages of a pornograhic nature and some pages about free speech. In order to "exclude" the pornographic sites, you would not use the key word "sex". Rather you would search the Internet for sites about "free speech," and the "First Amendment." Whereas a search of the terms "sex" and "free speech" on InfoTrac would provide much more positive results: wire service and magazine articles about free speech and sex. However, such a search would not give you all the results you might want. For that you would need to expand your keyword list by brainstorming all the possible synonyms for sex and free speech.

Key word list: Sex and Free Speech

Free Speech
First Amednment
Blue Ribbon Campaign

Using these keywords in a search string would provide a much more useful biblography. Remember, certain words used for Internet search engines will produce varied and sometimes unwanted results.

Essay Coherence

The second use of keywords and terms, coherence, is also important. Whenever you introduce a new idea, supportive text or testimony or shift stages of thought, you should use a key term from your background infromation, your preview or your thesis, or use a synonym for these terms. For example, I might write a paper using this thesis: "The First Amendment protects the free speech of U.S. citizens; however, underage access to the Internet pornography and problems with pronographic blocking programs prove that a limitation of this freedom is necessary."

Such a thesis has important concepts or key terms that must be discussed in the paper: 1)The First Amendment and protection, 2)underage access to Internet pornography, 3)pornographic blocking programs, and 4)limitation of freedom.

These key concepts will represent the main ideas of the paper; however, if these were the only terms we used for these concepts our paper would sound redundant. Thus the need for a list of synonyms: constituion, constitutional, priviledge, right, teenage, children, sex, obscene material, net-nannies, lewd, perverse, etc. etc.

Indeed one might be sure to include many of these synonyms or key word in the background portion of the paper, thus setting up the reader for all the echoes of the theme that will occur at the beginning of paragraphs, stages of thoughts and between explanations and examples. Such use of key terms creates coherence: coherence helps the reader relate all the ideas to the thesis. In addition, keywords will help you stay focused on your thesis.