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Basics of Social Research

A companion guide for students taking Basics of Social Research at Bluffton University

First, think about Keywords

Before you begin searching, think about your search strategy. Which words and phrases will you use as you create your searches?  These words and phrases are called "keywords" in library search tools, and you'll need a list of keywords to search successfully.

  1. Think about the topic you want to research. Write down your thesis statement or research question, if you have one.
  2. Now write down any concepts, people, and places that relate to this topic - as single words and short phrases
  3. Write down related words and phrases. Think about words that mean the same thing as the words you've already written.
  4. Write down any dates, acronyms, and abbreviations which relate to this topic.
  5. Use these words alone and combined in different ways to begin searching the databases. Keep an eye out for additional words and phrases you see as you start searching - add them to your list.

The handouts linked to this page will help you in this work.


Keywords are the words, phrases, and terms we use to describe the main concepts, ideas, people, events, and issues we are researching.  A list of relevant keywords will be an important tool in your research efforts.  Watch this video (produced by the University of Houston Libraries) to learn more, and then practice creating a list of keywords with the Topic-to-Keywords worksheet linked from this page.