Develop keywords

Keywords are your ticket to speedy, effective research in library catalogues and online search engines. You can use keywords to skim and scan text. In this way you can quickly decide whether the information you're looking at is useful.

Once you've identified the important words in your question, divide a page into columns and write one of these words at the top of each. Underneath, jot down as many related keywords as you can think of. Remember to include:

  • word variations, including plurals (for example, Aboriginal, Aborigines, Aborigine)
  • complex keywords and phrases (for example, ‘Australian Aboriginal elders' not just ‘elders')
  • Synonyms (for example, woman, female, lady). Have a thesaurus handy to help you with this – you can find one in the reference section of your library or online at sites like
  • When you're coming up with synonyms, think about how words might have been used in the past.

    For example, even though you'd probably think of words like:

    • Aborigine
    • Indigenous people.

    An old book might use words are not generally regarded as acceptable today like:

    • native black
    • 'savage'.

    If you're having trouble thinking of keywords, you might need to go back and do some more background reading about your topic.


    See also

    Using keywords

Add to your keyword list as you go. The more you learn about your topic, the better your keywords will be.