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Research Process

Identify Keywords

Identifying key concepts and what other words or phrases describe that concept you will get more meaningful results. Here is an example of how you can break down a question into concepts and their related phrases.

Original Phrase

Related words or ideas

eyewitness testimony

eyewitness identification/misidentification, false testimony, police lineup, eyewitness errors, lineup identification, eyewitness evidence, eyewitness memory

wrongful conviction

innocence, false imprisonment, exoneration, false arrest, wrongful incarceration, criminal justice errors

how often

statistics, data, history, frequency, extent

Keywords vs. Subject

When you type things into database search boxes, you are, by default, doing what is known as a keyword search. When you are looking for information on certain topics it can be helpful to do a subject search instead. However, some databases' subject headers are not as robust or descriptive, so a highly targeted keyword search might be better in some cases. Here are some key differences between the two search types of searches:

Keyword Search Subject Search
  • searches anywhere in the record for the words you typed
  • provides a lot more, but possibly unrelated, results
  • useful if you know that you have the correct words
  • search is the same regardless of database
  • has been tagged by a librarian as being relevant to the assigned subject
  • provides fewer, but more relevant, results
  • useful when multiple terms describe the same idea (ex. drugs, pharmaceuticals, medication)
  • different databases might use different vocabulary