Searching the Web for Sources: Keywords

The Internet provides quick access to an incredibly broad array of information. No matter how skilled you are at finding information on the Internet, you may not be aware of the most authoritative websites, or the best methods for establishing the validity of sources on the subject you’re investigating.  It is not always a good idea, for instance, to use resources such as ‘Wikipedia’ experts have not checked the information.

Becoming familiar with using established Information Gateways and Subject Directories in your field of study is an important step (make use of the “Favourites” option in your web browser and ‘Bookmark’ authoritative resources).  Your Librarian or Library Staff member will be able to advise you on how to evaluate and access professional resources for incorporation into your research.


The search process for your research begins with identifying ‘keywords’ that you will use to search databases, catalogues, or the Web.

  1. Before you begin a search, you need to consider the variety of possible keywords to use for your search, which will depend on the purpose of your work.  If you only have a vague idea of your topic, then you must be more expansive in the consideration of your keyword search.  You want to cast a wide net before narrowing down your subject focus; this will ensure that you have not missed any important resources.
Example: Researching “Learning in older adults”, you would have to consider an array of possible keywords, depending on the nature of your research.  You might select terms such as “Learning”, “Training”, or “Education” in conjunction with “Older Adults”, or “Seniors”.
  1. Once you retrieved a few results, you would inspect those journal articles for their keywords to find alternative ways to identify quality evidence.
Example: You may decide to focus your subject further to “Computer Learning by Older Adults”.  At this point, you may have to add terminology such as “Computer” or “Technology” or the “Internet”.
  1. In other cases, you may have more specific questions, or assignments, such as “Review three empirical articles published in the last year that assess ADHD in adolescents”  In this case, you have to review the meaning of each term properly.
For example, you would want to use “ADHD” as a keyword, but also the full meaning “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”.  You can use the term “Teenager” along with “Adolescent”.  You can also use the term “empirical” as a keyword, but you may also have to be expansive in this case as well. If you investigate the definition of “empirical research”, you will find that it refers to many different methodologies for producing new knowledge.  You may want to be more specific, such as using the term “Focus Group”, “Survey”, “Instrument”, “Assessment Tool” or “Clinical Trial”, which represents only a brief list of possible terms. Note that some databases recognize the term “empirical” as a controlled vocabulary term (Searching the Web for Sources Vocabulary) which will help you discover a broad array of resources without having to search for specific phrases such as “Survey”, “Focus Groups”, etc. unless that is the purpose of your work, to find those specific research methodologies.
« Back to Student SuccessLast updated November 22, 2019