Keywords are search terms that express the essence of your topic. They are crucial to an effective search, especially in library databases. Here are some tips for identifying keywords:
Begin with only 2-3 essential terms, and avoid long phrases. The more terms you enter the fewer results you’ll get. (For example, a search for environmental consequences of fracking may yield 0 results, while fracking environment yields over 2,000.)
If your first term doesn’t work, try a synonym. You may have to try out several related search terms to find the types of resources you're looking for. (Example: environment INSTEAD OF environmental consequences)
To identify useful keywords, do some quick background research. Note terms that are often used to discuss the topic. (Reference sources like Wikipedia or the library databases Credo Reference and Oxford Reference Online offer overviews of many topics. Of course, remember to evaluate information in Wikipedia with particular care since almost anyone can edit it.)
Do a quick database search and view the search results page to identify relevant terms.
In most databases you can refine results using the search functions AND, OR, and NOT.
Remember to use key search terms that express the most important concepts related to your topic. The more terms you use the fewer results you get, so be selective.
Example: A search like impact of gender on people's salary expectations will get far fewer results than gender AND salary AND expectations.
Example: an article about salary may not use that word, so try terms like wages, pay, income, or earnings. Searching for all of those terms together with OR between them (example: gender OR pay OR wages OR income OR earnings) tells the search engine to find at least one of the terms in your search results.
See resources in reference databases like Credo Reference or CQ Researcher which contain general and subject-specific resources (e.g. Business, Education, Psychology.) Wikipedia may also provide basic information about your topic (e.g. keywords, people's names, or place names). Once you have your key search words, try them in various combinations in the library's research databases.