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ALEC 440 - Business and Research Writing

Start Your Search by Developing Keywords

How do you typically conduct a search that will yield relevant sources? If you are searching in Google, you may start by asking a question, such as:

How does 4-H work?

While typing a sentence such as this would work in Google, library resources and databases require you employ keyword searches. Keyword searches include the most important terms. Using the example above, this search could be distilled down into a keyword search like:

4-H AND operations

Search Tip

You may need to think outside the box with your keywords to get the best results. Try thinking about how the term might be used in an academic setting, variations on the term, alternate spellings, or synonyms. A useful tool to create alternate keywords and topics based on your subject is a Mind Map, which is discussed on the "Selecting Your Topic" page.

In addition, you can improve the quality of keywords and retrieve more relevant search results by consulting a thesaurus to discover established terms in the agricultural controlled vocabulary. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's tool, AGROVOC or the USDA's National Agricultural Library Thesaurus and Glossary   are both excellent tools to develop keyword searches with agricultural subjects.

About Boolean Operators

After you develop your keywords, you can start pairing them together using Boolean Operators. Boolean Operators are the words: AND, NOT, and OR. Depending on which word operator you use, you can limit or broaden your search. 

Below are tutorials from McMaster Libraries that explain how to use use the Boolean Operators and its modifiers. Both tutorials have captions and have accessible transcripts in YouTube.

Tutorial 1--How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT)
Tutorial 2: How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Moderators