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School of Performance THF 101 Library Instruction

This guide is an updated version of the performance instruction guide

What are Keywords

Learning Objective: Identify the keywords in your research assignment

So what are keywords? 

Watch this Video on What are Keywords (From Seneca College Libraries YouTube channel, opens in new window)



To summarize:

  1. Keywords are the most important words in your topic
  2. Think of other words or phrases related to your topic (Synonyms)
    • Global warming is also "Climate Change OR Pollution"

  3. Only include your keywords in your search, not complete sentences
    • Global warming AND cities - YES

    • Is global warming bad for cities - NO

  4. Search again and again using different keywords


Creating a keyword strategy

Ruler and pencil drawingHere are some simple search techniques that can increase the relevance of your results and save you a lot of time. You can use them on TMU Library’s website and on search sites like Google Scholar.

Remember - Searching takes time and you might have to go back and use different search strategies.

Step 1:  Choose your keywords

Figure out your Keywords: Your keywords are the main concepts or ideas of your paper.

For example the keywords for a paper on "youth employment in Canada” would be:

  • Youth

  • Employment

  • Canada


Step 2 : Find synonyms

Use related words and phrases (synonyms): There are multiple ways to express the same concept.

 Employment can also be:

  • Job
  • Work
  • Career

Youth can be:

  • Adolescents
  • Teenagers
  • Teens


Step 3 : Understanding AND, OR, and NOT

Example of Boolean with (teenagers or youth or adolescents) and (work or employment or jobs) and toronto

Use "AND" and "OR"  (in capitals) to pull your keywords and synonyms together. These are known as Boolean operators! This way you can search for multiple concepts effectively.

AND = finds sources that contain all keywords

    Youth AND Employment AND Canada

OR = finds sources that contain at least one of these keywords

    Youth OR teenagers OR young people

NOT = eliminates or ignores a related term that you do not want in your search

Java NOT coffee (for when you want JAVA the computer language)

Employment NOT Farms  (for when you want to exclude sources about employment on farms)






Step 4:  Pulling It All Together

Use parentheses ( ), called nesting, to group the related terms. Next, use OR between each related keyword 


For Example: 

( Keyword 1 OR related term ) AND (Keyword 2 OR related term) AND (Keyword 3 OR related term)


(teenagers OR adolescents) AND (work OR employment) AND (Canad*).

More Searching Tips

Learning Objective: Understand how to expand or narrow your search to find more sources

Searching can be frustrating! 


Your research process involves false starts, repeating steps and asking increasingly complex questions.


What do when you're stuck

  1.  Always budget time to search, don't leave it until the last minute! 
  2.  Expand or Narrow your topic and keywords.

    If you get zero results for your search, try a broader term (expand). 

    Twitter use AND Ontario = 0 results

    Twitter use AND Canada = 9 results

    If you get thousands of results and are overwhelmed, narrow your topic

    Drug use AND Canada = 200,000 results

    Marijuana use AND Toronto = 13 results

  3. Use advanced search options (limit your search by type, date range etc.,)
  4. Searching will help generate more keywords.

    When you find a few promising sources, take a moment to analyze the keywords the author(s) are using and incorporate them into your search.
  5. Get help! 

    Check out the Library's Research Help Page! 

Search Strategies Quiz