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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Keyword Searching

The first step in a keyword search is identifying appropriate keywords for your topic. This begins with an examination of your topic. Let's assume that you want to research the effect of British colonialism on relations between Hinduism and Islam in India.

Ask yourself: Are there any distinct terms or phrases that describe my topic?

Some keywords are pretty simple. In this case, some obvious keywords would be HinduismIslamIndiaBritish, and colonialism. It is usually better to have more than one keyword or one key phrase, especially when your keyword is a somewhat general term like Hinduism or British.

Next:  Think of synonyms, variations and related concepts for your keywords

For instance, as well as Islam you could also use Muslim and as well as colonialism you might also use imperialism. Here, it can be useful to brainstorm for more terms with the same or similar meanings as your current keywords.

Other examples:

  • Veiling - veil, hijab, scarf, scarves, head coverings, modesty
  • Women - female, females, gender, woman
  • Islam - Muslim, middle east, islamic



See  Combining Subject and Keyword Searches (Claremont University Consortium) for more searching tips.

Refining Your Keyword Searches


If you are not getting enough search results, you need to broaden your search:

  • Generalizing your terms. Think of what category your specific terms belong to. If you are searching for Buddhism and violence, you could generalize your terms to religion and violence. Sometimes generalizing your search will get you too many hits, in which case use techniques to narrow your search
  • Delete search terms. Remove search terms that are not as important. religio* AND India AND Brit* will retrieve fewer records than religio* AND India.
  • Talk to a librarian. If you have tried everything you can think of and still are not finding enough sources, talk to a librarian before giving up.

If you get too many search results, you need to narrow your search:

  • Try making your search more specific. Sometimes this also means narrowing the topic of your search. If you are getting too many records on Hindu-Muslim relations try specifying a location, such as the Punjab, or a time period, such as nineteenth century.
  • Add search terms. For instance, if you want to find information on Hinduism and Islam and keep getting records about multiculturalism in Canada, add the term India.
  • Do a subject search rather than a keyword search.
    See Search Limits for more information on subject searching.
    (HINT: Click on the hyperlinked subject headings listed for useful sources you have already found).
And, as always, if your search is simply not successful - talk to a librarian!