Toolkit for Searching for Research Information
Step 2: Choose Relevant Keywords

Step 2: Choose Relevant Keywords

Key Points

  • Your search results will only be as good as the keywords you use.
  • Identify synonyms, acronyms and related terms, and use them in your search.
  • Consider different spelling options.
  • Use keywords in context.


Keywords are words with a lot of meaning.  When searching Google, keep your keywords to the point, and remember that less is more.  Every time you use a different word, your search results will change.  The keywords you use in a search have a direct connection to the information you find.

Take a look at the two search examples below. Compare the top 3 results. Look at the URL (web address – typically starts with www.). Are there any differences?

Search 1: do vaccines cause autism

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S2a search 1

Search 2: vaccines autism

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S2b search 2

Search 2, vaccines autism, is a better search than Search 1, do vaccines cause autism. Why? There are a number of words in Search 1 that are not needed, specifically do and cause. Every time you add a term to a Google search, the search algorithm looks for it and this affects the list of results. Remember, with keywords – less is more.

Synonyms, Acronyms and Related Terms

Synonyms are words that have the same or similar meaning as the original keywords. For example, synonyms of the word illness are: sickness, disorder, disease, and ailment.

Acronyms and Initialisms are short forms of words.

  • An acronym is an invented word, created from the initial letters of other words. For example: ASAP, which stands for as soon as possible.
  • An initialism is a type of an acronym, which is pronounced one letter at a time. For example: IBI is an initialism for Intensive Behavioural Intervention.

Researchers often use acronyms and initialisms to describe a concept. To get a full scope of research on a topic, include both in your search.

Related terms are words that have almost the same meaning. Related terms for the word illness are: affliction, indisposition, infection, virus, bug. Use synonyms, acronyms, and related terms in your search to help you find more relevant information. Different words are used to describe the same thing, and synonyms, acronyms, and related terms help capture a wider range of information. A quick way to find synonyms and related terms is to use the define command in Google. Type: define (your word here), for example: define illness. Here is an example of a live Google search, and a visual representation.

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S2c define

You can also find synonyms and related terms in a thesaurus. A few popular ones are:


When you search Google, you are searching for information on a global or international scale. Written English in Canada may not be the same as English in other parts of the word. For example, the Canadian/British spelling of behaviour is spelled behavior in American English.  For more examples of spelling differences, take a look at this Wikipedia page of potential spelling variants.

Context: Consumer Vs. Professional

There are many ways of describing the same thing. You saw an example of that in the Synonyms, Acronyms and Related Terms section. In addition, the health professional field has its own specialized language. For example, keywords your client might use to find information on the topic of behavioural therapies for children with autism are: what are behavioural therapies for children with autism (see search results).  Your search may look different because of your professional background: intensive behavioural intervention autism (see search results). Compare the number of results; see any differences? The main difference between the above two searches is context based. Your client will most likely tap into consumer-type information, while you might find information that is more advanced. One is not better than the other – the difference is in the context of the search.