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SOC101 Library 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. Charles Sturt has a list of explanations for common instruction words.

Assessment Item 3 asks you to:

Choose ONE historical or contemporary 'social movement' of interest to you - it might be relevant to your field of study at university and/or your future profession. Write a 1,500 word essay. Research peer reviewed literature and media to find out about the social movement. Make an argument about the effectiveness of this social movement to create positive social change and/or to challenge injustice or inequality. .

You MUST see your Subject Outline for comprehensive instructions.


Your topic analysis will differ depending on the social movement you choose to explore. Below is an example to help get you started.

Remember to read the Assessment Task thoroughly. If you need clarity on the Assessment Item instructions, contact your lecturer. 

Key concepts Terms related to your selected social movement.

Possibly terms related to a social institution: law, government, health, media etc.

Possibly terms related to a social category: class, ethnicity, gender etc. 

Possibly terms related to a location: Australia, Europe, developed country etc.

Possibly terms related to a period of time: 21st century, Second Feminist Wave, the Information Age etc.

Instruction words Define, discuss

Keyword Analysis

Some of your assessment will involve searching for articles and books. To find keywords to use in Primo Search or journal databases, it's important to brainstorm keywords that relate to different aspects of the topic. You also need to think about synonyms and alternatives for words, as well, to broaden your search. 

For example (this is not an exhaustive list):

Key concept Synonyms and related phrases
class social status, social order, classist, social stratification, social hierarchy
ethnicity culture, heritage, race, social treatment, ethnic, multiculturalism
gender feminism, feminist, non-binary, heteronormative, masculinity, transgender

When searching, you can combine these words and concepts to find relevant books and articles. You need to experiment with which combinations produce the best results.

See the Search Strategies page for search tips, and the Find tab more information about tools and resources.

Topic analysis


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.

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.