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Introduction to Library Research: Your Topic

Concepts and Keywords

A topic for a research paper is usually a statement or a subject, eg. "Discuss the causes of World War 1" or "How does divorce affect teenage girls' relationships with their fathers?" Both these topics are quite broad and so it is useful to start a list of key concepts and terms. In the first instance, "causes' and "world war 1" are the keywords. In the second example, divorce, fathers, daughters, relationships are some keywords.

Remember, good sources for keywords are your textbook, and any books or articles you do find (some of the articles may list keywords right before the start of the article, write these down!).    

Credo Reference and Topic Mapping

Credo Reference offers tools to quickly map your topic.  Simply enter your search term and click on Map it!  to brainstorm about your topic. This allows you to see relationships between key concepts, fill in gaps, and generate keywords for your searches. Try it out now!

Broad or Narrow keywords?

Keywords can be broad (for example "war") or narrow ("Battle of Vimy Ridge"). What do you do if you cannot find sources on your exact topic? Well, if you use a narrower term, you may find fewer books but more journal articles.  However,a book may still be useful since a book on World War One, might have chapters dealing with Vimy Ridge, so, taking out books on the broader subject is a good strategy. Look at the table of contents or scan the index at the back of the book on a broad topic to see if your narrower topic is mentioned.

Journal articles on the other hand, are usually better suited to narrower topics. This is where your list of keywords comes in handy, and combining your keywords (see below) will return relevant results.

AND, OR, NOT: boolean searching explained!

Many article databases require you to enter several keywords, usually combined with AND, OR or NOT. How do these affect your search? If our question is "Vimy Ridge and Canada's role in WWI" we can use "vimy Ridge" and "WWI" to combine the two concepts so the results are more focussed. We can broaden the search by using "Vimy Ridge" OR "Canada" and "World War I"

As mentioned above, it's better to search for books using broader search terms, but searching for articles usually benefits from using keywords that are narrower and joined by AND.


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