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SOWK 201 (Dollar): Forming Keywords

Example Situation

You are work in a homeless shelter for women and children.  You recently had a mother come to the shelter with her five children in 1st Grade, 3rd Grade, 5th Grade, 7th Grade, and 8th Grade.  The mother shares that God has appointed her as an apostle and that she cannot wear shoes because God will set them on fire to punish her, so she has to go barefoot.  When she meets with you she will randomly drop to her knees and pray very loudly in front of you.  She tells you that she has to stop, get on her knees, and pray out loud wherever she is located when she is so moved.  The children appear healthy, emotionally stable, and well cared for by their mother. 

Forming Keywords

Don't be afraid to try multiple keyword combinations! It may take a few attempts before you find which combination works best in your chosen database. No article is going to cover every single aspect of your topic. It's your job to find articles relating to different pieces of your topic, then you can stitch them together with your own critical thinking.

When coming up with keywords, remember to keep them short and simple.  Unlike Google, library databases do not work well with full sentences. It's best to avoid words like in, to, and the. Consider replacing them with AND (see the Linking Keywords tab). When you're looking for peer-reviewed sources you should keep in mind that you need to use the same type of language as professionals. For example, in a peer-reviewed paper the author would likely use the term juveniles, not kids.

 

Let's look at the example situation above. What words or ideas jump out at you? These are the words that stand out to me:

 

You are work in a homeless shelter for women and children.  You recently had a mother come to the shelter with her five children in 1st Grade, 3rd Grade, 5th Grade, 7th Grade, and 8th Grade.  The mother shares that God has appointed her as an apostle and that she cannot wear shoes because God will set them on fire to punish her, so she has to go barefoot.  When she meets with you she will randomly drop to her knees and pray very loudly in front of you.  She tells you that she has to stop, get on her knees, and pray out loud wherever she is located when she is so moved.  The children appear healthy, emotionally stable, and well cared for by their mother

 

Let's talk about how these can be turned into keywords.

Homeless shelter is a great keyword. I definitely want to use that in my search. However, if I'm not getting the results I want I could try related terms like homeless or homelessness.

Mother is also a great term. But what if you're not getting enough results when using this as a keyword? Think a little broader. Try parentcaregiver, or women instead.

God, apostle, and pray aren't strong keywords on their own (there isn't likely to be much social work literature about apostles), but together they all point toward religion, spirituality, or beliefs

While fire definitely stands out in this paragraph, I wouldn't use it as a keyword. The mother isn't actually setting anything or anyone on fire.  So this detail isn't one of the main ideas of my topic. We want to stick with the highlights. There probably isn't going to be any literature specifically about shoes catching on fire as punishment.

She has to is clunky and professionals won't be listing it as the subject of their papers. Instead, try compulsion.

Well cared for by their mother is another long phrase that won't work well in the database. Instead, try child welfare.

Other keywords:

You can also use words that are not specifically stated in your situation.

For instance, you're exploring the ethics of these situations. Ethics, principles, standards, and social responsibility would all make excellent keywords.

Another term I would try is mental illness. What is being portrayed as religion may actually be a deeper psychological condition. Mental health and mental disorder are also good alternatives to try. If you're getting too many results, try using a specific mental illness instead (i.e. bipolar disorder).

In this fictional situation you are working in the homeless shelter. Therefore, social worker, case manager, and counselor would all be logical keywords.