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Rehabilitation Assistant

What are keywords and how do I come up with keywords?

Keywords are the words that you use to search. Good keywords for library database searching represent the most important words or ideas related to a topic. 

You can come up with a list of keywords by looking at your research question and circling or writing down the most important words. If you are working with a PICO research question, you can simply identity the population, intervention, outcome and control/comparison. 

Example Research Question: "How does the use of exercise compare to medication in reducing anxiety in elderly women?" For this research question, the PICO elements and initial keywords are: 

  • P: elderly women
  • I: exercise
  • C: medication
  • O: reducing anxiety 

Watch the video below to learn more, including:  

  • how keyword searching in a library database works
  • how to identify keywords in a research question
  • how to brainstorm additional keywords before searching in a library database

How can I use PICO to help me brainstorm keywords?

Once you've identified the PICO elements in your question, you can start creating a list of synonyms you could use for searching. 

  P I C O
Keywords elderly women exercise medication reducing anxiety
Synonyms & alternative words older women physical activity, physical exertion, active lifestyle, walking, hiking, moderate intensity exercise, strength training, yoga Benzodiazepines treatment of anxiety, anxiety treatment, anxiety, management of anxiety

As you search for sources using your keywords, take note of the terminology used by authors to write about your topic. Add new keywords to your list and try adjusting your searches using the keywords you see in articles and books on your topic. 

Which databases are recommended for health-related research?

When looking for health research specifically, it can be helpful to search within specific health databases. These databases contain only journal articles from health-related fields.

Research Tips

Before You Begin - A Checklist

To successfully find information you will need:

  • a well-defined topic
  • a keyword list with at least 3-4 main keywords to use in your search
  • a list of questions to answer or an "information wishlist"
  • an understanding of the kind of items you hope to find (academic? media? reports?)
  • places to search



 Use "quotation marks" for exact-phrase searching
  • "video games"
  • "British Columbia
  • "freedom of the press"
  • "needle exchange"
Search for keywords within specific fields - use the drop-down list beside the search box.
  • Title
  • Subject Terms
  • Journal Title
  • Abstract
 Use suggested topics, subjects and thesaurus terms for more refined searching  
 Use the available limiter options (left side of results page)
  • Full Text (excludes books)
  • Peer Reviewed (Scholarly) Articles (excludes books)
  • Publication Date
  • Format
  • Subject
  • Geography
Use narrower keywords
  • video games > first person shooters
  • safe-injection sites > Insite
  • Vancouver > Hastings Street, Downtown Eastside
Check "Books & Media" to find just books, ebooks and media  



 Use "OR" to look for versions of the same concept (synonyms, related words)
  • child OR youth OR teen
  • safe-injection OR "needle exchange" OR Insite
  • Vancouver OR "British Columbia" OR "Lower Mainland"
  Use * [shift+8] after a word's root to search all endings
  • Canad* = Canada, Canadian, Canadians, Canadiana
  • "video gam*" = video game, video games, video gaming
  Use broader keywords
  • video games < media < entertainment
  • safe-injection < harm reduction policies < drug addiction
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