Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University

Sustainability

This guide is designed for interdisciplinary research in sustainability.

Keywords in Sustainability

Consider the following when building your list of keywords:

Brainstorm terms based on what words you hope to find in the perfect article.

Consider synonyms for key terms or any terms that are interchangeable.

What terminology suggests to you that the author knows what they're talking about?

  • biodiversity,
  • biofuel,
  • conservation,
  • ecoliteracy,
  • ecosystem,
  • environmentalism,
  • green design,
  • green technology,
  • human impact,
  • natural resources,
  • natural systems,
  • renewable energy,
  • responsible consumerism,
  • sustainable design,
  • sustainable agriculture,
  • sustainable development,
  • sustainability

Keywords and Synonyms

Why Keywords?

  • Because good keywords are essential to good research.
  • The more keywords you can think of, the more likely you will find what you are looking for.

Why Synonyms?

Synonyms make your list of keywords longer. More keywords = better searching = more results. Look at the example below to get an idea of how synonyms can broaden your understanding of a given concept:

image of a synonym word map

Our Advice: 

  • Make lists of keywords for the main concepts of your research topic.
  • Use single words or simple phrases.
  • Be prepared that this may all change as you learn more information through your research.
  • Be flexible and adaptable in your thinking.
  • Use a thesaurus to help generate synonyms.

Search Examples

Many library resources offer the option to combine your keywords using AND, OR, & NOT.  This can also be useful when searching online.  Use quotation marks to search for a name or phrase.

  • AND = All words must be present; helps limit the search.
    • sustainable AND food system
    • sustainability AND natural resources
    • food security AND united states
  • OR = Great for synonyms or variations of the same concept; helps broaden the search while staying within the subject area.
    • sustainable OR sustainability
    • sustainability OR conservation
    • tiny houses OR tiny homes
    • sustainable AND (agriculture OR farming)
    • wind farms OR wind power plants OR wind turbines
  • NOT = Exclude an unrelated term, or to weed out irrelevant results.
    • renewable energy NOT biofuel
    • (food waste AND restaurants) NOT grocery
    • (daylighting AND commercial) NOT residential

Finding Keywords for Your Topic

This brief video (0:59) from the University Library at UNC Greensboro explains how to turn your research question into useful keywords. 

If you would like more practice with keywords, check out the rest of their tutorial!

PATH: Lighting Your Way From Research to Writing (UNCG Libraries) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0