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Social Work Resources: Developing Keywords and Phrases

Keywords and Phrases

Identifying Search Terms

Developing good keywords or phrases is critical to finding the resources you need.

Once you have your topic, identify words that describe the main concepts of your topic--then brainstorm keywords or synonyms. These terms and phrases will help you locate the resources you need.

Here are some example topic questions with the keywords underlined and synonyms listed in table: 

Research Question is:

Are safe injection sites a good response to the opioid crisis?

Concept 1:

safe injection sites

Concept 2:


supervised injection facility


safe injection facilities

drug abuse

medically supervised injection sites


Research Question is:

What is the impact of rising college costs on students?

Concept 1:

college costs

Concept 2:


Concept 3:

student debt

Concept 4:



college students

student loans




educational debt



young adults

college debt


Still Having Trouble with Keywords?

If you're still having trouble finding keywords:

Read a relevant periodical article

Look for Keywords or Subject Terms in the search results in Lightner Discovery

  • Read the Abstract or Description for ideas
  • Abstracts also my have lists of keywords and descriptors

Wikipedia may help you generate ideas for search terms as well

Search Terms & Tricks Video