35 Identifying the Main Concepts


Your research question will be the foundation for your research process. The next step is to identify the main concepts within the research question that you created. Though many people type full questions word-for-word into online search engines, the algorithms of the search engines are programmed to pull out the most important keywords in what is typed into the search bar—some of the words in your research question are irrelevant when it comes to finding information sources. Main concepts, also sometimes called keywords, key terms, and/or key phrases, are almost always nouns. Words in your research question that are not likely to relate to the main concept are words like: the, is, affect, what, why, when, how, and are. When trying to identify the main concepts, think about what ideas and topics would need to be present in an information source for it to be relevant to you and your research.

How can divorce affect a student’s GPA in high school?

How can divorce affect a student’s GPA in high school?

In the example above, the main concepts, or keywords, in the research question are: divorce, student, GPA, and high school. These are the main concepts that will be the focus of your research; if an information source includes all of these concepts, then it is very likely to be relevant and useful to you. It is your job as a researcher to determine what is relevant to your research. Be aware that the main concepts from your research question serve as a base to launch your search for information and the keywords selected to describe your main concepts are likely to evolve during the process.

Searching is an iterative process: We try keywords, take a look at what we found and, if the results weren’t good enough, edit our keywords and search again – often multiple times. Most of the time, the first keywords we try are not the best, even though Google may give us many results. It pays to search further for the sources that will help you the most. Be picky.


Textbox adapted from “Why Precision Searching?” by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries, licensed under CC BY 4.0



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Introduction to College Research Copyright © by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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