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How do I find keywords?

Finding good keywords is one of the most important and difficult tasks when searching for information. Pick out keywords from your search query, the words that summarize your query. These are the words you will use when searching in databases.

Plan your search

Planning the search saves time and makes it easier when presenting the search strategy you used to find material for your work. Start by analysing and defining your search query by deciding:

  • Why you are looking for information, do you want an overview or in-depth?
  • What kind of material do you need? Books, scientific articles, laws or statistics?
  • How much material do you need?
  • How old can the material be?
  • Do you need scientific material?

Select keywords

Start from your query and pick out keywords that summarise your entire search query. You also need to consider whether you can use synonyms, general terms or more specific terms in your search. Remember that scientific material is usually written in English, so you also need to search in English to find it. To find useful keywords, you need to learn more about your topic. You can use course literature, lectures, the web and encyclopedias.


If you already found an interesting scientific article that you want to use in your work, you can use it to find more articles in the same subjectarea. This is called using a gold standard when searching. In the database you can find the keywords that describes the article, that you can use in your own search.

Subject headings

In some databases you can use subject headings when searching. The words in the subject headings are controlled, meaning that the word is used to describe a particular term. These terms are then used to tag scientific articles and other materials in the databases. Subject headings may have different names and contain different words depending on which database you use. Most often you will find subject headings under headings such as thesaurus, subject headings, keywords or index.