Skip to Main Content

Psychology Resources: Keywords

Guide to print and online psychology resources at Lightner Library

Narrowing Your Topic

If your research topic is too broad, you will find too much information and will need to narrow the scope. Take a few minutes to think about your topic . . .

  • Is there a specific aspect of your topic that interests you?  
  • Can you limit your research to a specific time period?
  • Consider focusing your research on one geographic area.
  • Can you focus your topic on a specific group of people or things?

Example:  A broad topic might be eating disorders, but you could narrow it by focusing on a specific eating disorder in a specific class of people.

Broadening Your Topic

If you are having difficulty finding enough information, there could be many reasons.  Start by thinking about the following:

  • Your topic may be too narrow, and you may need to broaden it.
  • Your topic may be too current for scholarly books and articles to have been published.
  • Have you searched in all the library databases for information?  Consider talking to a librarian to see if there is a specific database that you should be looking at.
  • You may not be using the right search terms.  A librarian can assist you in identifying the best keywords and phrases to use.

Example:  Trying to write a paper about drug abuse among college hockey players in Boston may be too narrow. You could consider broadening your topic to look at drug abuse among college athletes.

Identifying Keywords

Once you have a topic in mind, it is time to start identifying keywords and phrases that describe your topic.  The terms that you come up with can be used to search in the online catalog as well as the library's online databases. For example:  

Research question:  Does watching violent movies affect teenagers?

Identify the most important concepts in your question:  movies - violence - teenagers.

Brainstorm alternate keywords and phrases.

Keyword 1:  Movies

Keyword 2:  Teenagers

Keyword 3:  Violence

Synonyms & related words


Synonyms & related words



Young adults

Synonyms & related words


Once you have identified your keywords, you are ready to string them together to locate articles and books.

If you are having trouble coming up with search terms, see a reference librarian who can help you find the best terms to use to find the information you need to write your paper. 

More Strategies for Identifying Keywords

Following are some strategies for coming up with keywords:

  • Look at your textbook, a periodical article, or an encyclopedia
  • Look for keywords in your search results in the online catalog and article databases:
    • Subject heading fields
    • Abstracts of articles often have lists of keywords or descriptors
  • Look at the database thesaurus or list of subject terms
  • Check out the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, 11th ed. or the Library of Congress Subject Headings
    • ‚ÄčBoth titles are located at the Reference Desk

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Linda Park
(315) 279-5208