Identify the main parts of your research question

In this step, break your research question down into parts for efficient searching.

Superhero Fantastic 4 - stretchy guy

Example research question: 

How do gender stereotypes in popular media, such as Marvel or Disney, impact children?

Subtopics: gender stereotypes, popular media, children

Now take these subtopics and brainstorm more keywords and search terms. Since authors talk about things in different ways, it's helpful to have a few alternative words to try in our searching. 

Brainstorming keywords

Here are some ways to come up with more useful keywords: 

Use scholarly language

Using more complex or academic words might help find scholarly sources. Ask yourself: how would my professor describe the concept in class? 

  • For example, they might use adolescent rather than teen.

Use synonyms

Library tools and databases are unimaginative! Because authors use different words to describe the same thing, you may need to search those exact words to find their articles. Use or Google for finding synonyms.

  • For example, in addition to teen you would also search young adult, teens, teenager, or youth.

Pick meaningful keywords

Some keywords are more effective for searching than others. Pick keywords that are important to your topic.

  • For example, leave out words like effect, affect, impact, or cause. They are common and won't help your search.

Applying these techniques

Let’s try these techniques using our example subtopics of gender stereotypes, popular media, children. We want to expand the keywords available to us for searching.

Subtopics from our example

more keywords

"gender stereotypes""gender roles""sex roles""gender norms"
"popular media"superhero or superheroineMarvel or Disneyprincess
childrenchildyouth"early adolescents"