Skip to Main Content

Research Process: 1c. Identify Keywords

No matter what stage of the research process you're at--only beginning, stuck in the middle, or finishing up with citation polishing--this guide is a great resource for you.

Identifying Keywords

1c. Before you begin searching for information in a print or online resource, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Key terminology can be easily found by doing the following:

  • Your initial research questions.
  • Encyclopedia and other articles used when conducting background research.
  • Suggested terms found from conducting an initial search.
  • Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles.

If you are still struggling, then try these suggestions:

  • Use a thesaurus from a database or Microsoft Word. Study an online or print thesaurus to identify synonyms.
  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe the picture.
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend.

Keyword Exercises

Make a list or use the Generating Keywords chart below to keep track of keywords related to your topic. Keep it by your side when you start your research.

The keywords you use can have a profound impact on the results of your research. If the keywords you choose initially do not give you the results you need, try the others on your list or use the search strategies listed under Step 2.

You may discover keywords by looking at articles and bibliographies on your topic. Below are some examples of how you may pick out phrases and words to use in the next step of your project, locating resources.

Generating Keywords:

This handy grid will help you keep track of the various words you brainstorm from your topic choice to your research questions.

Research Questions:

(Word) These are the questions you generated from Step 1b. 


(Word) Practice spotting keywords from a list of citations.

Sample Article:

(Web) One article may be a stepping stone to more. Check the abstract, subject words, and text for synonyms.

CONTINUE... Back to Previous Step Continue to Next Step




  Reach us at the Viterbo Library by phone, email or chat.

Main Desk: 608-796-3269 | Reference Desk: 608-796-3270 | Reference Email:

Library Website: