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HCS519 Research Skills Guide: Choosing keywords

Topic Analysis

Once you have chosen a broad topic about social work practice, you can start thinking about what language you will use when searching for information.

To do this:

  • Write down the key concepts of your topic (i.e.: distil your topic into as few words as possible - no sentences)
  • Brainstorm as many synonyms and similar terms/phrases as you can.

This is a useful exercise because the language used to describe your topic may vary from source to source, and you don't want to miss out on a good source because it uses a different term to the one you are searching on.

Example Topic Analysis & Keyword Brainstorm

Let's use this topic as an example:

Practice skills in domestic violence support.

Keyword Synonym / Similar term or phrase
Practice skills practice, skills, social work practice
Domestic violence domestic abuse, spousal abuse, home violence, family violence
Support care, prevention

Keyword Activity

Write down the key concepts from each 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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