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First Year Writing: Brainstorming

Brainstorming Resources


Some information on this page has been adapted from the University of Alabama Libraries' First Year Writing libguide.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are words that appear in key places in the information about an article, book or other resource. For a scholarly journal article, common 'key places' include: the article title, journal titles, author name, abstract, or  subject terms. 

Below is a screenshot of an article. 


There's lots of keywords in this article. Here's some examples:

  • In the title, dogs and learning could be useful keywords
  • Under subject terms, there's lots of possible keywords, like psychology of students, social skills, and human-animal relationships
  • There's a section called author-supplied keywords, which lists some great keywords like animal-assisted learning and human-animal interaction
  • And finally, there's also lots of interesting keyword possibilities in the abstract, like high school students, reading, and human functioning

Brainstorming Keywords

Now that you know what keywords are, how do you know which ones to use before you search? When you think of keywords, try to reverse engineer your search results. You’ll need to think about what kinds of words might appear in a helpful resource. How would a scholar talk about your topic? It might be different from how you’re wording your research question.

Say you’re interested in researching how Instagram use affects self-esteem. For our first search, you might use self-esteem and Instagram. But there may be other articles that are helpful and relevant that don’t use the words Instagram or self-esteem anywhere in those key places.

So you’ll need to come up with some alternative keywords. You’ll need to do more than one search in order to come up with everything you need for a paper. One helpful way to come up with some new keywords is to think of words or concepts that are broader or more narrow than your original keyword. A broader word might be a general concept that's used to describe your keyword - like how social media is a broad word used to define words like Instagram. A narrower word is a more specific related word - like body image for self-esteem. An article that discusses body image and social media would be really helpful in our research, and we might never have found it had we only searched for Instagram and self-esteem.

See the table for some examples:

Narrower Followers, likes, filters Body image
Original Keyword Instagram Self-esteem
Broader Social media, social networks Mental health, confidence