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Search Smarter: Finding Information in Science and Engineering: Step 1: Keywords & Synonyms

What are keywords?

Keywords are the main words or phrases that outline what your topic is about.They represent the important concepts or ideas in your research question.

To find information for your assignment in library catalogues, databases or on the Internet, you will need to decide which words you are going to use in your search. 

To be able to do a good search, you need to analyse your assignment question and identify what keywords best describe your assignment topic. 

Words like discuss and outline are not keywords.  They describe what you must do in your assignment. 

Where do I use keywords?

Where to use keywords:

• Library catalogue

• Databases

• One Search

• Internet

Example assignment question

Discuss the impact of climate change on Australian ecosystems.

 The keywords in the above example are:

Climate change



What are synonyms?

Synonyms can be:

Different spellings of same word eg. colour OR color

Similar meanings/concepts eg. greenhouse effect OR global warming


To identify synonyms use:

• Thesauri and lists in a database

• Dictionaries (online dictionary available via Credo)

• Encyclopaedias

• Discussions with other people (lecturers, tutors, peer groups)

Example assignment question

 Discuss the impact of climate change on Australian ecosystems.

Keyword 1 synonyms
Keyword 2 synonyms
Keyword 3 synonyms
Climate change
Global warming Australian
Greenhouse effect

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