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ISL181/481 Research Skills Guide: Keywords (Topic Analysis)

Topic Analysis

A topic analysis will help you to clarify and understand what your assessment question is asking you to do.

You will generally be given three key pieces of information:

  1. The key topic or concept words direct you in what to research.
  2. The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus of the topic or concept.
  3. The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content. CSU has a list of explanations for common instruction words.

Let's use one of the ISL181 topics as an example:

Identify and discuss one (or more) social reform(s) introduced by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Medina period.

If we break this question down into parts, we can identify the specific components:

Key concepts

Prophet Muhammad
Social reforms


[Your selected social reforms]
the Medina period

Instruction words

Identify, discuss

Before you start searching, you should analyse your topic a little further to identify search terms. 

It's important to brainstorm all possible aspects of the topic, to find key words and phrases to use in Primo or journal databases. You also need to think about synonyms and alternatives for words, as well, to broaden your search. For example:

Prophet Muhammad

Muhammad, Muhammad ibn Abdullah

The Prophet Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, the Prophet and other titles

Variant spellings of Muhammad, such as Mohamet, Mohammed, Mahamad, Muhamad, and many others.

Social reforms

Reform, reforms, reformer

Community reform, moral reform, religious and social framework

Social security, women's rights, religious freedom, etc.

You may not actually need to use all of these while searching in Primo, but it's a valuable exercise to help you to think about the scope and nature of your topic.

While searching, you should try different combinations of several different keywords, and use the filters to narrow down your results. You'll need to experiment with which combinations produce the best results.

See the Search Strategies page for search tips and tools.


Write down the key concepts from your topic and have a go at brainstorming as many alternative keywords and phrases as possible.

Thinking about your topic in this way forces you to describe your topic in "other words", which will provide you with some useful keyword alternatives as well as help you to cement your understanding of the topic.

Topic Analysis

Find additional keywords

Dictionaries and encyclopaedias can help you to find additional keywords and get an overview of the concept.

Oxford Reference Online is a huge repository of subject-specific dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and other reference-type material.

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