Bachelor of Biomedical Science & Bachelor of Biomedicine: Finding resources

Library & Academic Skills Guide for first and second year students

What are keywords?

Keywords (or key words) are words that tell you what approach you should take when answering an assignment question. 

Keywords can include content (topic), limiting (restricting), and task (instruction) words.

Assignment example:

"Determine the effect of physical activity (PA) on metabolic syndrome markers in people with T2DM"

    Content Words      

  • Tell you what the topic area is.
  • Help you to focus your research and reading on the correct area.
  • Think about synonyms or similar words.    
  • e.g. in this example: metabolic syndrome markers.

Source: University of New South Wales

    Limiting Words 

  • Tell you what area(s) to focus on, e.g. effects of physical activity.
  • Define the topic area further.
  • Indicate aspects of the topic area you should narrowly concentrate on, e.g. people with T2DM.

    Task Words

  • Tell you what to do; the action(s) you need to perform, e.g. compare, contrast, describe, summarise, i.e. determine, as in this example.

When you are searching for information for an essay question, assignment or project, use the identified content and limiting keywords to search for information sources in our Library Search and online.

Keyword search strategies

Consider the sample assignment topic: "Determine the effect of physical activity (PA) on metabolic syndrome markers in people with T2DM".

Once you have analysed your topic and done some preliminary reading, you are ready to break down the chosen research topic into key concepts selected from both the topic and your readings. It is best to identify 2 to 4 key concepts, with each concept containing up to 2 words, which will serve as keywords or search terms you'll type in Library Search to find relevant resources.  You might need to build separate search strategies for different aspects of your research as well as use a variety of keywords to ensure you cover all aspects of the topic.

Source: University of Texas Libraries

For example, focusing on the assignment topic, listed are the main concepts or keywords: 'metabolic syndrome markers', and 'physical activity', and the narrower concepts, such as 'people with T2DM'Alternatively, you could use synonymous (related), or broader and narrower terms, such as:

metabolic syndrome 

markers OR biomarkers


physical activity OR exercise


Apply the following strategies to combine them:

  • for a basic search, enter the identified keywords in the Library Search field, for example: effects exercise metabolic syndrome 
  • you can combine keywords with some other aspects of your research, for example, you can combine 'architectural site analysis' and 'climate' in your searches by using the Boolean operators (AND, OR & NOT) for narrowing or broadening your searches, or for excluding some search terms from your searches, if appropriate. The use of Boolean operators allows for constructing more complex search statements, for example:

  effect AND (physical activity OR exercise OR fitness) AND (metabolic syndrome OR  insulin resistance syndrome) AND (T2DM OR Type 2 Diabetes)

  • think of possible synonyms and related words or phrases, for example, physical activity OR exercise OR fitness
  • search exact phrases by enclosing the phrase in quotes, for example, "metabolic syndrome"
  • find a term with various endings by using as a truncation symbol represented by an asterisk (*), for example, effect* will retrieve effect, effects, and effective
  • group related or synonymous terms together by placing them in parentheses, for example, (physical activity OR exercise OR fitness). Also, consider the Australian English and American English spelling of words. 

Boolean operators

Boolean Operators are the words AND, OR, and NOT used in library databases that can make searches more precise, and save you time by removing the need to go through all the search results in order to find the most relevant articles. For example, when searching on the topic of diabetes mellitus (T2DM) related to obesity among the elderly and investigating the interrelation between genes and environmental factors in type 2 diabetes, you could apply the following terms and operators:

AND narrows the search resulting in more focused results, for instance, searching for  “obesity” AND "diabetes", all articles in your result will include both concepts (keywords)

OR broadens the search by instructing the database to search for any of the words, which is particularly useful for synonyms or related terms, i.e. “geriatric” OR “elderly” OR “senior”

NOT narrows the search by instructing the database to remove all unnecessary search results, for example “cloning” NOT “sheep”


Keyword searching strategies - Video

Search tools on the VU library website

Link through to the library website

Many (but not all) VU Library resources can be accessed through VU Library Search. Keywords or search terms can be entered in the search box.


The library also provides tools to allow users to search for the book, journal article, video, or newspaper whether in physical or electronic format. These tools are located below the main search box on the library website. Consider the text listed under each of the search tools. 

VU Library Search Overview: Part 1

VU Library Search Overview: Part 2

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