CJ 101 Introduction to Criminal Justice (Swenson)

Strategize Search Terms

Make a list of search words.

To begin to search successfully you must use a variety of words that relate to your topic 

  • Think of the different words and phrases that people might use when they discuss your topic. Start with what you know.
  • Consider broader and narrower words, and synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
  • Consider point of view, In other words, think about how to approach your topic with words that reflect different perspectives. For example: 
    • formerly incarcerated people vs. former offenders
    • juvenile delinquents vs. youth or teenagers
  • As you search, write down additional words that you come across.
  • Identify search words through your background research and in the scholarly journals databases. 
  • You can ask a librarian for help in finding words that are used in your field of research.  

Sample Topic: Corrections & the US Prison System

Find your Focus & Search Terms (Keywords) in Reference

The launching point for your research this quarter is The US corrections or prison system. This topic is huge! 

Find a focus for your research.

  • Step 1: Type either "prison system" or corrections into the search field of the Holman Library database GVRL.

Type in search terms- "prison system" for ex

  • Step 2: Browse the list of titles for ideas on how to focus your search. 

browse for ideas ideas from title list

  • Step 3: Click on Subjects on the upper right and browse the list of subjects to find a focus and keywords.

Browse subjects for a focus and ideas

  • Step 4: Click on a title that sounds interesting and use that article to help you find a focus and search terms. 

keywords and focus from an article



poor people, White people, African American people, people of color, youth, gang members, judges, prosecutors, police, corrections officers, communities, etc.


corrections, prison, state prison, juvenile detention, restorative justice, jails, halfway houses, parole, probation, sentencing disparity, racism, poverty, war on drugs, mass incarceration, etc.


justice, equity, rehabilitation, punishment, recidivism, treatment, etc.

Video: How to use keywords to form a research strategy

Source: Holman Library - Green River College (2013, October 23)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Learn how to go from your topic to a research question and identify keywords and phrases to research your topic.