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Researching and Writing a Paper: Keywords and Controlled Vocabulary

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

Keywords and Controlled Vocabulary

To come up with keywords, identify the most important words in your research question or topic.
Sample Question: "Do anti-impaired driving messages reduce the number of people who drive while intoxicated?"
The initial key concepts are 'anti-impaired driving messages', 'reduce', and 'the number of people who drive intoxicated'.
You could start searching the library's databases with just these keywords, but for really good results you probably should expand your search by finding related words for each keyword. These could be more specific words, more general words, ideas that are related to your topic, and synonyms (words that mean the same thing).
Take a look at the table below to see some samples of what other words could be used as keywords.

Broader: 'impaired driving', 'drugged driving', intoxicated driving', 'drunk driving'
Synonym: 'commercial', 'advertisement', 'advertising', 'Public Service Announcement'
Synonym: 'less', 'reduction', 'reduced', 'smaller'
Synonym: 'opposed', 'combat', 'opposition', 'anti'
Synonym: 'statistics', 'drunk-driving statistics', 'intoxicated driving statistics'

Controlled Vocabulary:
A Controlled Vocabulary is a list of subject terms that the author, editor, or publisher, selected to describe the contents of an article or paper. This is often very useful for finding similar articles. Look for lists, links, or boxes, that say things like 'Details', 'Indexing Terms', 'Subject', or 'Categories' in the page displaying the article (if the article looks maybe useful save it or download it). Then revise your searches with the new keywords and continue the process until you find more than enough relevant sources. (Always find more sources than your assignment asks for or that you expect to need.)

Other 'Searching Tips and Tricks':

  • Scholarly articles nearly always have a list of sources, some of those sources might be useful to you.
  • Google Scholar has a feature that lists articles that have cited the article you found (use the title as search terms, find the title you searched for in the results and look for 'cited by'), some of those articles might be useful to you.
  • Using the title, or even the abstract or summary, of a useful article as search terms often brings up some additional useful articles.
  • Authors often write several related articles. Searching by the name of the author(s) of a useful article is often an excellent way to find additional useful articles.

Note: Ultimately you want the full text of the article, but you do not want the fact that an article is not full text in the database you are searching to prevent you from finding out about the article. An article may be available in another database, it is almost certainly available through Interlibrary Loan (Books, Articles), and sometimes it is even posted online. So, at least at first, you probably should leave 'Full Text' unchecked, even though what you want is 'Full Text'. Librarians and Library Staff can (usually) help you find the full text of an article, and can always help you find similar articles!

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