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SOC 210 - Information Literacy Guide


Whether you are starting with a vague research topic or a specific research question, identifing the best possible keywords is a critical step in the search process.  It is worth taking the time to think about what words are going to return relevant results.    

Keep it simple.  Focus your research question or topic by selecting only two or three keywords that best reflect the exact subjects.

Consider this:  

Let's say that you were interested in finding information about restorative practices to help prevent the school-to-prison pipeline. 

  • First - If this information exists, where will you find it? Education databases, criminology databases, etc. 
  • Second - How will you look? You'll want to identify the most relevant keywords and their synomyns or related words (e.g. school-to-prison pipeline, ("restorative practices" OR "restorative justice")  etc.).


An effective search strategy might look like this: 


Question your question

Ask questions about your topic.  

Who/What  (e.g. what population is involved; what is the age group; who benefits...don't try to answer all of these only the one that makes the most sense for your topic).

When (e.g. is your topic current; does it need to have a date limitation, such as the last six years)

Where (i.e. university setting; United States; regional; lower socio-economic status neighborhoods, etc.) 

Why (why this topic? why this question? Who benefits from the results?)

Trying to answer the questions will assist in identifying keywords and will help you to think more about your research question (and why you have selected your topic).