MSW 530: Understanding Social Work Research

Selecting Keywords

Choose Search Terms

Key Concepts

Identify the key concepts of your topic and enter just those terms (not the full sentences) into the search box. For example, if you are investigating the current state of Internet communciations, and whether these communications are gender-neutral and inclusive, your key concepts will be: Internet, communications, gender, gender-neutral.


Consider Synonyms, Broader Terms, Narrower Terms, and Related Terms: 

For example, for a search on Internet communications consider the following: "social networks", "online journaling", "social media", "online comments". Then to narrow the terms even more, you could narrow the search terms to a particular type of social media, such as Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Blogs, etc.


Subject Headings: 

Articles are assigned subject headings. Use these as keywords to broaden or narrow your results. In many of the library's databases, you will find the list of assigned subject headings (sometimes called descriptors) in the record for the article. See the below image as an example of where you can find the subject headings: 

Some databases offer a thesaurus that lists related subject headings. Usually, you can find a link to this list near the top of the page.


Phrase Searching:

To find an exact phrase, use double quotes, such as "social media" or "Malcolm X".

Combine Search Terms

Boolean Operators 

Boolean Operators are words (AND, OR, NOT) that combine or exclude keywords in a search.  Of course you will want to use Education related keywords. This example illustrates how to include or remove subjects with keywords.


AND narrows your search

  • "Malcolm X" AND biography finds resources with both terms

OR broadens your search

  • "Malcom X" OR literarcy finds resources with either term or both terms

 NOT excludes terms

  • "Malcolm X" NOT "Denzel Washington" excludes all books with the term "Denzel Washington"

Identify Key Concepts - Worksheets

The two Word documents below are intended to assist beginning researchers to learn how to identify key concepts within their research questions or topics. Additionally, they demonstrate how they may develop narrower, broader, or similar terms for a search query.