CJ 101 Introduction to Criminal Justice (Williams)

For students in Michelle Williams' CJ 101

Strategizing Search Terms: Sample Topic = Restorative Justice


To search successfully for information on a topic you use a variety of words that capture different aspects of your topic. 

I: Start with what you know

  • Think of the different words and phrases that people might use when they discuss your topic. 
  • Think about WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW words.
    • For example, who are the stakeholders in restorative justice and what issues does it address?
  • Consider broader and narrower words. Consider synonyms and related words.
    • For example, restorative justice or peace circles used in education. 
  • 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
    • youth or teenagers vs. juvenile delinquents

II: Add words that capture what you want to know

  • Add words that capture facets of the topic you want to learn about.
    • For example, laws or trends or debates... 

III: Use Academic Encyclopedia articles, aka Reference, to add to your keyword list

Example: Excerpt from the 2019 article "Applying Restorative Justice Principles in Law Enforcement"

  • In the image below, I have highlighted key words and ideas that capture some of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How facets of my topic.

(click on image to enlarge)

from restorative justice as an alternative to traditional legal responses

IV: Additional tips

  • As you search, write down additional useful words that you come across.
  • Find additional search words, particularly specialized terminology, in professional and scholarly literature. 
  • You can ask a librarian for help in finding words that are used in your field of research.  

Discover Keywords in Reference

You can just search for relevant information using the keyword phrase "restorative justice." 

If you know a little about a topic before you search, however, you will be able to focus in on areas of the topic that interest you.

Skim one of the following articles to build a basic understanding of:

  • What restorative justice means
  • Who the stakeholders are. Who participates in it? Who does it impact?
  • Settings in which restorative justice is used
  • Context in which it is used or out of which it was developed
  • Why it is being adopted/ what the issues are
  • Key language and concepts in restorative justice
  • Debates
  • Laws and policies 

In the excerpt below from the opening to an article on restorative justice, I highlight words that capture different dimensions of the topic, from what restorative is, who it addresses, where it is practiced, what its goals are, synonyms to restorative justice, and ways in which it is enacted. 

The article provides different aspects of the topic, and suggests ways I could focus my topic. I could, for instance research:

  • restorative justice AND accountability
  • restorative justice AND healing
  • restorative justice AND Canada

(click on image to enlarge)

Restorative Justice Keywords

Sample articles on Restorative Justice - 
  • note the range of approaches to the topic, including education, law, and criminal justice.

Video: Searching Databases with Keywords

Source: "Searching Databases with Keywords" by lehmanlibrary , is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

An overview of how to use keywords that capture your research focus effectively in academic databases