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Title, Abstract and Keywords

The importance of titles.

The title of your manuscript is usually the first introduction readers (and reviewers) have to your work. Therefore, you must select a title that grabs attention, accurately describes the contents of your manuscript, and makes people want to read further.

An effective title should:

  • Convey the  main topics  of the study
  • Highlight the  importance  of the research
  • Be  concise
  • Attract  readers

Writing a good title for your manuscript can be challenging. First, list the topics covered by the manuscript. Try to put all of the topics together in the title using as few words as possible. A title that is too long will seem clumsy, annoy readers, and probably not meet journal requirements.

Does Vaccinating Children and Adolescents with Inactivated Influenza Virus Inhibit the Spread of Influenza in Unimmunized Residents of Rural Communities?

This title has too many unnecessary words.

Influenza Vaccination of Children: A Randomized Trial

This title doesn’t give enough information about what makes the manuscript interesting.

Effect of Child Influenza Vaccination on Infection Rates in Rural Communities: A Randomized Trial This is an effective title. It is short, easy to understand, and conveys the important aspects of the research.

Think about why your research will be of interest to other scientists. This should be related to the reason you decided to study the topic. If your title makes this clear, it will likely attract more readers to your manuscript. TIP: Write down a few possible titles, and then select the best to refine further. Ask your colleagues their opinion. Spending the time needed to do this will result in a better title.

Abstract and Keywords

The Abstract is:

  • A  summary  of the content of the journal manuscript
  • A time-saving  shortcut  for busy researchers
  • A guide to the most important parts of your manuscript’s written content

Many readers will only read the Abstract of your manuscript. Therefore, it has to be able to  stand alone . In most cases the abstract is the only part of your article that appears in indexing databases such as Web of Science or PubMed and so will be the most accessed part of your article; making a good impression will encourage researchers to read your full paper.

A well written abstract can also help speed up the peer-review process. During peer review, referees are usually only sent the abstract when invited to review the paper. Therefore, the abstract needs to contain enough information about the paper to allow referees to make a judgement as to whether they have enough expertise to review the paper and be engaging enough for them to want to review it.

Your Abstract should answer these questions about your manuscript:

  • What was done?
  • Why did you do it?
  • What did you find?
  • Why are these findings useful and important?

Answering these questions lets readers know the most important points about your study, and helps them decide whether they want to read the rest of the paper. Make sure you follow the proper journal manuscript formatting guidelines when preparing your abstract.

TIP: Journals often set a maximum word count for Abstracts, often 250 words, and no citations. This is to ensure that the full Abstract appears in indexing services.

Keywords  are a tool to help indexers and search engines find relevant papers. If database search engines can find your journal manuscript, readers will be able to find it too. This will increase the number of people reading your manuscript, and likely lead to more citations.

However, to be effective, Keywords must be chosen carefully. They should:

  • Represent  the content of your manuscript
  • Be  specific  to your field or sub-field

Manuscript title:  Direct observation of nonlinear optics in an isolated carbon nanotube

Poor keywords:  molecule, optics, lasers, energy lifetime

Better keywords:  single-molecule interaction, Kerr effect, carbon nanotubes, energy level structure

Manuscript title:  Region-specific neuronal degeneration after okadaic acid administration Poor keywords:  neuron, brain, OA (an abbreviation), regional-specific neuronal degeneration, signaling

Better keywords:  neurodegenerative diseases; CA1 region, hippocampal; okadaic acid; neurotoxins; MAP kinase signaling system; cell death

Manuscript title:  Increases in levels of sediment transport at former glacial-interglacial transitions

Poor keywords:  climate change, erosion, plant effects Better keywords:  quaternary climate change, soil erosion, bioturbation

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  • Writing Tips

How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Research Paper

How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Research Paper

  • 6-minute read
  • 29th July 2023

After writing a research paper, you will want others to find your research online. But how? Through social media? By telling your friends? You could. The only thing is that scholars and researchers typically find research through academic databases and search engines. To get your research noticed, you need to include keywords in your paper. But why do keywords matter? How can you choose the right keywords?

We’ll answer these questions in this post. You’ll learn how to choose the best keywords for a research paper . Additionally, you’ll learn:

  • The importance of keywords.
  • Strategies for choosing quality keywords.
  • Where to include keywords in a paper.

While keywords may seem insignificant, failing to include them is a mistake when writing research papers . Quality keywords accurately represent the content of your research, allowing scholars in your field to find it in an online search quickly.

Why Are Keywords Important?

Keywords make it easy for others to find your research in search engines and academic databases. Finding relevant research papers can be arduous, so readers circumvent this by using specific phrases and terms to find research that aligns with their interests. Therefore, you need to include keywords to match those phrases and terms. Without quality keywords, your research will end up in the academic abyss.

In short, keywords:

●  Produce precise search results.

●  Save researchers time and effort as they search for material.

●  Enhance discoverability (i.e., help others find your research fast).

●  Ensure that your paper is properly categorized in databases.

As a rule, you should choose five keywords maximum for research papers.

Strategies for Choosing Robust Keywords

1. avoid long phrases and ambiguity.

For keywords in research papers, most journals request phrases that are one to four words in length, meaning no complete sentences. Try using nouns whenever possible, and avoid using conjunctions such as and . It’s also worth mentioning that you should avoid using terms that are in your paper’s title.

Use distinct keywords that are directly related to your research. Generic terms don’t reflect specific terms that potential readers use during their search.

2. Consider Your Audience

Who is your targeted audience? Educators? Engineers? Consider potential terms or phrases your audience would use to search for your research, then modify chosen keywords to match your audience’s terminology. Understanding your audience is vital for creating quality keywords.

3. Identify Core Concepts

What are the core concepts, topics, and themes of your research? These are the main ideas that the paper addresses, which can be found in the abstract section. Make a list of these items.

Let’s say your paper is about cyberbullying in high schools. Examples of core concepts/terms related to the research include:

●  Digital harassment

●  Exclusion

●  Trolling

●  Anonymity (the state of being nameless)

●  Impact on student mental health

●  Prevention and education

Core concepts, topics, and themes can be a few words or phrases. Once you’ve identified them, consider how to turn them into specific keywords.

4. Consult Similar Research

Consulting research papers on your topic is a great way to find keywords. As you research them, examine the keywords they use to describe their content. This can provide insight into commonly accepted terms and terminology within your field. We suggest researching at least three related papers.

5. Use Synonyms and Variations

Readers interested in your field will use different terminology in their online search. Therefore, you need to use synonyms and variations of your chosen keywords. Synonyms are words that have the same meaning as another word.

To illustrate this, let’s take the previous example of the paper about cyberbullying in high schools. You could use the following keywords for this research:

●  Cyberbullying awareness

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●  Online safety

●  Cyberbullying education

●  Student online behavior

What synonyms could you use for these keywords? Let’s try this:

●  Cyberbullying perception

●  Virtual security

●  Online harassment education

●  Student online conduct

You can play around with synonyms until you find ones that resonate with you. Using an online thesaurus, such as Word Hippo , can make finding synonyms a breeze.

6. Include Acronyms and Abbreviations

Does your paper contain commonly used acronyms and abbreviations , such as DNA and AI? If so, consider including them as keywords, as readers often use acronyms and abbreviations to find relevant research. This will significantly increase the chances of readers finding your work.

However, we don’t recommend using acronyms or abbreviations that are only known within your field. A general audience will likely be unfamiliar with them. We suggest spelling them out in full if you think they would be strong keywords. You should also spell the definition as a keyword if the abbreviation or acronym appears in the paper’s title.

7. Test Your Keywords for Optimal Results

Once you’ve compiled your best keywords, test them in search engines and academic databases to see if they produce the right results. Think of it as testing a tent in your backyard before going out into the woods for an overnight camping trip. If there are problems with the tent during the backyard test, you can at least retreat into your house. Likewise, if the chosen keywords don’t generate positive results in a test, you can refine them before submitting the paper.

Where Are Keywords Included in a Paper?

Some sources insist that you include keywords in the title, while others say subheadings are better. Most academic journals require paying a subscription to access full articles. However, one can easily access a paper’s abstract in academic search engines like Google Scholar.

Therefore, we recommend including keywords in the abstract section. Additionally, it provides an overall summary of your paper, making it the ideal spot for keywords.

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned:

●  Keywords help readers find your research in search engines.

●  Aim for five keywords.

●  Keywords should be one to four words in length.

●  Identify a potential audience before selecting keywords.

●  Consult similar research for samples of appropriate keywords.

●  Use word variations (synonyms).

●  Include abbreviations and acronyms.

●  Test keywords before submitting the paper.

Finally, for our visual readers, we recommend this video on choosing the best keywords for a paper.

As with any writing, we strongly recommend proofreading your research paper before submission. It needs to be checked for common errors such as typos and extra spacing. We understand the challenges of proofreading, which is why we recommend asking us to proofread and review your writing . We can check that the paper is clear and concise. Additionally, we will ensure perfect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Consider submitting a 500-word document for free!

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Guidelines for selecting keywords

An important part of submitting your thesis or dissertation is selecting keywords and subject categories. These elements become part of the information about your thesis or dissertation and will help other researchers to find your work.

Follow these guidelines:

  • You must have at least one keyword. You can enter up to 6 keywords for your thesis or dissertation.
  • Capitalize the first letter of keywords. If your keyword is a phrase, capitalize only the first letter of the first word, for example: Business administration . If your keyword is a proper name, capitalize the first letter of each word, for example: Mississippi River .
  • Use full phrases rather than acronyms or abbreviations. For example, use Health Maintenance Organization rather than HMO .
  • Add a keyword if the concept or concepts covers at least 20% of your dissertation or thesis. Keywords should categorize your work as a whole, so focus on major concepts. It's OK to disregard minor aspects of your paper.
  • Ask yourself what your dissertation or thesis is about. If you were searching for this topic, what keywords would help you find it?
  • You may need more than one keyword or keyword phrase to adequately cover a concept.
  • Keywords may be a single word or several words. Keywords may include phrases.
  • Avoid bringing out every single concept with separate keywords when broader keyword(s) or keyword phrase(s) will do.
  • If you have two or more keyword concepts that are equally important, assign multiple keywords.
  • It may be useful to browse the ProQuest Subject Categories list to help you think of keywords.

If you have questions on selecting keywords or categories, contact the IT Service Desk ( Submit a Ticket or Start a Live Chat ) and ask for an ETDR consultant.

  • Updated: 7/14/23


How to Write a Research Paper

  • Formulate Questions/Thesis
  • Identify Keywords
  • Find Background Info
  • Search Strategies
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  • Statistics This link opens in a new window
  • Primary | Secondary
  • Scholarly | General This link opens in a new window
  • Creative Commons
  • Cite This link opens in a new window
  • Quote, Paraphrase, Summarize

Generate Keywords

  • Keyword Generator University of Texas. Tutorial that walks you through generating keywords.

key words for thesis

Image source: Powernowllc. CC0 1.0.  Wikimedia Commons.

What Are Keywords?

Keywords are important words/concepts found in your research question or thesis. 

key words for thesis

A quick and dirty way to pull keywords from a research question/thesis is to choose the most important nouns ; all other words are irrelevant.

Using keywords to search will always retrieve more results than phrases or sentences.

Image source:  Producer.  CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons

Find Keywords

key words for thesis

  • within your research question or thesis
  • in encyclopedias used in background research
  • in bibliographies found at the end of books and  articles
  • in a thesaurus (or in Word's thesaurus under the Review tab)
  • by asking a librarian

Image source:  Evan-Amos .  Public Domain.  Wikimedia Commons.

Chart Keywords

  • Keyword Chart

key words for thesis

Keywords have a profound impact on search results. Using the right words will speed up the research process, while the wrong ones can bring to it to a painfully screeching halt.

If the keywords you initially choose do not give good results, try others on your list, try search strategies , or ask a librarian for help.

Use the chart above to document keywords related to your topic.  Keep it by your side when you start your research.

  • << Previous: Formulate Questions/Thesis
  • Next: Find Background Info >>
  • Last Updated: Apr 11, 2024 11:23 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.lvc.edu/researchpaper

Developing a Thesis Statement

Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. In this section you’ll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.

Keep in mind that not all papers require thesis statements . If in doubt, please consult your instructor for assistance.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement . . .

  • Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic.
  • Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper.
  • Is focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper.
  • Is generally located near the end of the introduction ; sometimes, in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or in an entire paragraph.
  • Identifies the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.

Not all papers require thesis statements! Ask your instructor if you’re in doubt whether you need one.

Identify a topic

Your topic is the subject about which you will write. Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic; or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper.

Consider what your assignment asks you to do

Inform yourself about your topic, focus on one aspect of your topic, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts, generate a topic from an assignment.

Below are some possible topics based on sample assignments.

Sample assignment 1

Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II.

Identified topic

Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis

This topic avoids generalities such as “Spain” and “World War II,” addressing instead on Franco’s role (a specific aspect of “Spain”) and the diplomatic relations between the Allies and Axis (a specific aspect of World War II).

Sample assignment 2

Analyze one of Homer’s epic similes in the Iliad.

The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.

This topic focuses on a single simile and relates it to a single aspect of the Iliad ( warfare being a major theme in that work).

Developing a Thesis Statement–Additional information

Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic, or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper. You’ll want to read your assignment carefully, looking for key terms that you can use to focus your topic.

Sample assignment: Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II Key terms: analyze, Spain’s neutrality, World War II

After you’ve identified the key words in your topic, the next step is to read about them in several sources, or generate as much information as possible through an analysis of your topic. Obviously, the more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument. For the sample assignment above, you’ll want to look at books and articles on World War II in general, and Spain’s neutrality in particular.

As you consider your options, you must decide to focus on one aspect of your topic. This means that you cannot include everything you’ve learned about your topic, nor should you go off in several directions. If you end up covering too many different aspects of a topic, your paper will sprawl and be unconvincing in its argument, and it most likely will not fulfull the assignment requirements.

For the sample assignment above, both Spain’s neutrality and World War II are topics far too broad to explore in a paper. You may instead decide to focus on Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis , which narrows down what aspects of Spain’s neutrality and World War II you want to discuss, as well as establishes a specific link between those two aspects.

Before you go too far, however, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts. Try to avoid topics that already have too much written about them (i.e., “eating disorders and body image among adolescent women”) or that simply are not important (i.e. “why I like ice cream”). These topics may lead to a thesis that is either dry fact or a weird claim that cannot be supported. A good thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes. To arrive at this point, ask yourself what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about your topic.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times . Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Derive a main point from topic

Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this “controlling idea” into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.

Look for patterns in your evidence

Compose a purpose statement.

Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.

  • Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis
  • Franco turned to the Allies when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from the Axis

Possible conclusion:

Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco’s desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze Franco’s diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain’s neutrality.
  • The simile compares Simoisius to a tree, which is a peaceful, natural image.
  • The tree in the simile is chopped down to make wheels for a chariot, which is an object used in warfare.

At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.

This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.

Derive purpose statement from topic

To find out what your “controlling idea” is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence . As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.

For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco’s decisions, you may conclude that Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a focus or identify your “spin” or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn . Thus, you might begin with something like this:

  • This paper will look at modern language to see if it reflects male dominance or female oppression.
  • I plan to analyze anger and derision in offensive language to see if they represent a challenge of society’s authority.

At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Compose a draft thesis statement

If you are writing a paper that will have an argumentative thesis and are having trouble getting started, the techniques in the table below may help you develop a temporary or “working” thesis statement.

Begin with a purpose statement that you will later turn into a thesis statement.

Assignment: Discuss the history of the Reform Party and explain its influence on the 1990 presidential and Congressional election.

Purpose Statement: This paper briefly sketches the history of the grassroots, conservative, Perot-led Reform Party and analyzes how it influenced the economic and social ideologies of the two mainstream parties.


If your assignment asks a specific question(s), turn the question(s) into an assertion and give reasons why it is true or reasons for your opinion.

Assignment : What do Aylmer and Rappaccini have to be proud of? Why aren’t they satisfied with these things? How does pride, as demonstrated in “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” lead to unexpected problems?

Beginning thesis statement: Alymer and Rappaccinni are proud of their great knowledge; however, they are also very greedy and are driven to use their knowledge to alter some aspect of nature as a test of their ability. Evil results when they try to “play God.”

Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main idea: The reason some toys succeed in the market is that they appeal to the consumers’ sense of the ridiculous and their basic desire to laugh at themselves.

Make a list of the ideas that you want to include; consider the ideas and try to group them.

  • nature = peaceful
  • war matériel = violent (competes with 1?)
  • need for time and space to mourn the dead
  • war is inescapable (competes with 3?)

Use a formula to arrive at a working thesis statement (you will revise this later).

  • although most readers of _______ have argued that _______, closer examination shows that _______.
  • _______ uses _______ and _____ to prove that ________.
  • phenomenon x is a result of the combination of __________, __________, and _________.

What to keep in mind as you draft an initial thesis statement

Beginning statements obtained through the methods illustrated above can serve as a framework for planning or drafting your paper, but remember they’re not yet the specific, argumentative thesis you want for the final version of your paper. In fact, in its first stages, a thesis statement usually is ill-formed or rough and serves only as a planning tool.

As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your temporary or “working” thesis. Or you may reach deeper insights about your topic as you do more research, and you will find that your thesis statement has to be more complicated to match the evidence that you want to use.

You must be willing to reject or omit some evidence in order to keep your paper cohesive and your reader focused. Or you may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. Read your draft carefully, noting the conclusions you have drawn and the major ideas which support or prove those conclusions. These will be the elements of your final thesis statement.

Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, “ What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss? ” and “ How will I convince the reader that this is true? ” When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.

Refine and polish the thesis statement

To get to your final thesis, you’ll need to refine your draft thesis so that it’s specific and arguable.

  • Ask if your draft thesis addresses the assignment
  • Question each part of your draft thesis
  • Clarify vague phrases and assertions
  • Investigate alternatives to your draft thesis

Consult the example below for suggestions on how to refine your draft thesis statement.

Sample Assignment

Choose an activity and define it as a symbol of American culture. Your essay should cause the reader to think critically about the society which produces and enjoys that activity.

  • Ask The phenomenon of drive-in facilities is an interesting symbol of american culture, and these facilities demonstrate significant characteristics of our society.This statement does not fulfill the assignment because it does not require the reader to think critically about society.
Drive-ins are an interesting symbol of American culture because they represent Americans’ significant creativity and business ingenuity.
Among the types of drive-in facilities familiar during the twentieth century, drive-in movie theaters best represent American creativity, not merely because they were the forerunner of later drive-ins and drive-throughs, but because of their impact on our culture: they changed our relationship to the automobile, changed the way people experienced movies, and changed movie-going into a family activity.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast-food establishments, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize America’s economic ingenuity, they also have affected our personal standards.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast- food restaurants, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize (1) Americans’ business ingenuity, they also have contributed (2) to an increasing homogenization of our culture, (3) a willingness to depersonalize relationships with others, and (4) a tendency to sacrifice quality for convenience.

This statement is now specific and fulfills all parts of the assignment. This version, like any good thesis, is not self-evident; its points, 1-4, will have to be proven with evidence in the body of the paper. The numbers in this statement indicate the order in which the points will be presented. Depending on the length of the paper, there could be one paragraph for each numbered item or there could be blocks of paragraph for even pages for each one.

Complete the final thesis statement

The bottom line.

As you move through the process of crafting a thesis, you’ll need to remember four things:

  • Context matters! Think about your course materials and lectures. Try to relate your thesis to the ideas your instructor is discussing.
  • As you go through the process described in this section, always keep your assignment in mind . You will be more successful when your thesis (and paper) responds to the assignment than if it argues a semi-related idea.
  • Your thesis statement should be precise, focused, and contestable ; it should predict the sub-theses or blocks of information that you will use to prove your argument.
  • Make sure that you keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Change your thesis as your paper evolves, because you do not want your thesis to promise more than your paper actually delivers.

In the beginning, the thesis statement was a tool to help you sharpen your focus, limit material and establish the paper’s purpose. When your paper is finished, however, the thesis statement becomes a tool for your reader. It tells the reader what you have learned about your topic and what evidence led you to your conclusion. It keeps the reader on track–well able to understand and appreciate your argument.

key words for thesis

Writing Process and Structure

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Generating Ideas for

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Generating Ideas for Your Paper



Developing Strategic Transitions


Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

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Isf 189 & 190: thesis: keywords and descriptors.

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What are they?

Keywords, also called search terms, are the words you enter into the search boxes in catalogs, databases, and search engines. They represent the main concepts of your research topic. 

Descriptors, or subject headings, are terms used by the creators of a database to "officially" label a particular concept. This is referred to as a controlled vocabulary. 

It is generally easier to start your search by using keywords, but if the resource you are searching supplies you with descriptors, you may want to incorporate those into your search for more relevant results. 

Before you start searching, take a moment to consider what keywords you will use. 

  • Identify the main concepts of your topic
  • Brainstorm synonyms and related terms that could be used to describe your topic
  • Spell out abbreviations

Be prepared to run multiple searches using various keywords. It's rare that your first search will bring back perfect results.

Turn your topic into keywords

Here is an example of a research question: What is the impact of college binge-drinking on school performance?

Identify the key concepts: college, binge-drinking, school performance

Identify synonyms or related terms

  • College: university, higher education
  • Binge-drinking: alcohol use, alcohol abuse
  • School performance: grades, student achievement, academic performance, student success

Because the databases search for the exact words you enter, certain types of words can be unhelpful to include in your search. These include:

relationship words -- those that get at the relationship between two topics. Examples: compare, contrast, correlation, causation, relationship

judgement words -- those that judge something to be better or worse than something else. Examples; best, worst, pro, con, advantages, disadvantages

It may be that you will have success using these terms, but since there are many ways these ideas can be express or implied, using these terms in your searches may exclude relevant articles simply because they don't include the exact word that you entered. 


Usually you'll want to spell out abbreviations when searching databases and search engines. But you can also search for both the abbreviation and the complete word or phraseby connecting the terms with OR. 

Example: Cognitive Behavior Therapy OR CBT


As explained above, descriptors are standardized language used by a database to describe concepts. You can usually find the database's controlled vocabulary in a section called subject terms or thesaurus. Be aware that each database can have their own controlled vocabulary, so the language used to describe a concept may not be consistent across databases.

key words for thesis

From:  Cooper, Harris, Harris M Cooper, and Larry V. Hedges. 1994.  The Handbook of research synthesis . New York: Russell Sage Foundation. 

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Tips for Abstracts and Keywords

When submitting your ETD, you must include an abstract for your thesis or dissertation. The abstract will be included in the public record of your thesis or dissertation.

Keywords are also required for your ETD. When selecting keywords, choose keywords that describe the content of your thesis or dissertation. Use keywords that will be easily recognized by others in your discipline.

  • personality
  • atomic emission spectroscopy
  • Renaissance music
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Austen
  • global feminism

Try not to use adjectives by themselves as keywords. For example, the word long-term doesn’t convey meaning by itself. However, if used in conjunction with a noun (e.g. long-term care), the meaning has greater significance. If possible include at least one keyword that does not appear in the abstract or title.

While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.

This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.  

Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence) 

Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.

This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.  

Arguable thesis with analytical claim 

While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.

This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.  

Arguable thesis with normative claim 

Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.

This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.  

Questions to ask about your thesis 

  • Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?  
  • Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?  
  • Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?  
  • Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?  
  • Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
  • picture_as_pdf Thesis

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Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements

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This resource provides tips for creating a thesis statement and examples of different types of thesis statements.

Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:

  • An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
  • An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
  • An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.

2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.

4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Thesis Statement Examples

Example of an analytical thesis statement:

The paper that follows should:

  • Explain the analysis of the college admission process
  • Explain the challenge facing admissions counselors

Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:

  • Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers

Example of an argumentative thesis statement:

  • Present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college

APA 7th Edition Style Guide

  • Abstracts & Keywords
  • Authors & Publication Dates
  • Titles & Sources
  • In-line, Within-Text Citation ch.8
  • Is this a "real" journal? evaluating journals
  • Tables and Figures
  • Librarian contact

Always follow the abstract guidelines by the journal you are wishing to publish in. That being said, these are some general requirements for writing abstracts:

  • An abstract is a summary of the research or article.  Essentially the goal of the abstract is to give a one or two sentence summary from each section  of the article, which typically contains an introduction, methods or design, results, discussion or conclusion. There can be of course deviations from this, but this is typical
  • abstracts are in paragraph form. However, some journals have specific formats, one example is below.
  • The norm is for 200-250 words for the abstract. Be concise.

What are the keywords for? They are used for indexing and abstracting of your articles, i.e., they help people searching in databases to be able to find your article.

What should I use for keywords? Basically you want to use words that collectively describe your research. They should summarize what your article is about. Look at some publications in your research area and see how they write their keywords. Really think about what the keywords in that particular research are describing or trying to focus on. 

What is the format for keywords? Always follow the journal guidelines that you are publishing in. Most likely they will have specifics. Following APA 7th edition guidelines, the phrase Keywords is to be in italics with a colon, followed by the keywords or phrases separated by commas. After the last keyword, no punctuation is used.   

So if I were writing keywords for this research guide I might use:

Keywords: library research guides, LibGuides, APA 7th edition, citation styles

Abstracts & Keywords: Examples

Vollbehr, N. K., Hoenders, H. J. R., Bartels‐Velthuis, A. A., Nauta, M. H., Castelein, S., Schroevers, M. J., Stant, A.D., de Jong, P.J., &  Ostafin, B. D. (2020). A mindful yoga intervention for young women with major depressive disorder: Design and baseline sample characteristics of a randomized controlled trial.  International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 29 , Article e1820. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/mpr.1820

key words for thesis

Reddy-Best, K.L. & Choi, E. (2020). "Male hair cannot extend below plane of the shoulder" and "no cross dressing": critical queer analysis of high school dress codes in the United States. Journal of Homosexuality , 67 (9):1290-1340.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2019.1585730

In this study, we questioned how high school dress codes outlined in official handbooks were written or presented in regard to the gender binary, either/or perspective. We critically analyzed how or if they allowed for flexibility in expression of gender and sexual identity and if they supported, encouraged, or affirmed a variety of expressions, in particular transgender and gender non-conforming expressions, throughout the text or images. The content analysis method was used to analyze 735 handbooks from the 2016 to 2017 school year. Three themes emerged from the data: (1) support of fluid gender expression, yet not overt support; (2) passive marginalization of gender non-conforming or transgender identities or expressions; and (3) active marginalization of gender non-conforming or transgender identities or expressions. The “LGBTQ+ Dress Code Analysis Tool” was developed for policy makers to use to analyze their dress codes.

Keywords : Dress code, gender, high school, LGBTQ+, queer, sexuality

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Selecting keywords & subject headings.

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The Dissertation Abstract

The abstract is your dissertation's calling card to the world.  The abstract is usually your first connection with every potential reader.   It also is a key feature in discovery of your dissertation through search engines.

Abstract Requirements and Checklist :

  • Number of paragraphs  : Abstract should be ONE PARAGRAPH  [no returns]
  • CC License Option: If you have chosen a Creative Commons License , this must specified in the abstract mentioning the type of license and linking back the the CC License page.
  • how many supplemental files
  • type of file
  • whether or not they are also accessible within the PDF.  
  • T his includes the author video abstract
  • Length:  Abstracts no longer have length requirements in UMI/Proquest, but the print version of the database will cut off at 350 words MAXIMUM.   APA Style calls for 150-250 words, which is most reasonable.    The shorter, the better.
  • Final Sentence :  To enhance discovery every abstract must carry this sentence at the end

  This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, https://aura.antioch.edu/  and OhioLINK ETD Center, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

Keywords are also essential to your dissertation being discovered online.

Keyword Guidelines:

  • Place the keywords a few lines below the Abstract in your dissertation
  • Your Keyword field is limited to 350  characters
  • The Keywords in the Final Submission Form must match the Keywords in the Dissertation

Selecting Keyword :

Consider:   Which words would someone interested in my dissertation use? 

  • ​ Language/ Jargon  used in your academic field? e,g, community of practice, best self
  • Synonyms and Related Terms:  e.g. non-profit, not-for-profit, third sector / eating disorders,  anorexia, bulimia
  • Alternate Spellings :  e.g. organisation, organization
  • Methodology : e.g. grounded theory, qualitative, etc.
  • Population:   e.g.  teachers, executives, African Americans, college students, grandparents
  • Venue:   e.g.  workplace, corporations, elementary schools

Test your Keywords in Google and Google Scholar to see if they yield the items similar to your dissertation.

Subject Headings

On the Final Submission Form you will also be able to select Subject Headings for the Ohiolink ETD Center Archive;

  • These subject headings DO NOT go into your dissertation
  • This is a "Controlled Vocabulary" List.    You cannot change or add to the list.  There is no Subject Heading for LEADERSHIP. So add 'leadership' in your keyword list.
  • Choose the most appropriate subject headings for your dissertation.  

Attached below is the current list from which you will choose.

key words for thesis

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Research Process :: Step by Step

  • Introduction
  • Select Topic
  • Identify Keywords
  • Background Information
  • Develop Research Questions
  • Refine Topic
  • Search Strategy
  • Popular Databases
  • Evaluate Sources
  • Types of Periodicals
  • Reading Scholarly Articles
  • Primary & Secondary Sources
  • Organize / Take Notes
  • Writing & Grammar Resources
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Literature Review
  • Citation Styles
  • Paraphrasing
  • Privacy / Confidentiality
  • Research Process
  • Selecting Your Topic

Identifying Keywords

  • Gathering Background Info
  • Evaluating Sources

Mind Mapping

Created by Joshua Vossler

key words for thesis

Make a list of keywords relevant to your topic.  Be sure to list similar, broader, narrower, and related terms . Keep the list by your side when you start your research and continue to add to it as you come across useful terms.

Before searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. The keywords you use have an impact on the results of your research. 

If the keywords you choose do not give you the results you need, try the others on your list or use the  search strategies  listed under Step 2.

Keywords and phrases can easily be found by scanning . . .

  • your initial research questions
  • encyclopedia and other articles used when conducting background research
  • bibliographies found at the end of books and articles

If you are still struggling, try these suggestions:

  • Use a thesaurus to identify synonyms
  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe the picture
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend

Combining Keywords

When researching, we are like detectives trying to combine the right terms in the right place to find the information we need. This information will help you combine search terms to find relevant sources.

Broad Search

Search for information using the single most important term related to your topic. Use this type of search when looking for basic background information.

Specific Search

Search for information by combining key concepts using the words you have brainstormed. Each concept/word should be separated by the word "AND" . Use this kind of search when looking for specific evidence related to your claim or thesis.

Getting Too Many Irrelevant Results?

Add more search terms.

Getting Too Few Relevant Results?

Change or remove some search terms.

Using a Concept Map

A concept map is a graphical tool used to organize and structure knowledge. 



  • Concept Map Worksheet
  • Concept Map Example
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How to Choose Keywords for a Research Paper

key words for thesis

With the ever-increasing volume of information available digitally, finding relevant sources has become quite the challenge! To hunt down the articles we want, we use search engines and type in keywords that narrow down results.

Keywords, therefore, are essential for filtering the overwhelming amount of resources available. When we use these parameters in a database or a search engine, we receive a list of results ranked according to relevancy. The more the content of an article reflects the keywords used, the higher it will appear on the results page.

So, what are the best research paper keywords?

How, then, can we make sure that our published articles and academic papers rank higher on search results and not drown in the sea of publications? The answer, of course, is choosing the best keywords! However, there are some pitfalls with using keywords, so the following is a quick guide on how to carefully choose keywords for a research paper and what mistakes to avoid.

Follow any instructions your target journal provides regarding keywords

The journal rules of the specific publication trump all others! For example, most clinical papers use terms from the US National Library of Medicine’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) . Many journals request five to eight terms. However, some restrict the nature of the words that can be used. For instance, some journals want single words instead of phrases. Again, double-check journal requirements!

Think about what terms you would use to search for papers related to your topic

Chances are the phrases you choose are going to be similar to what other researchers may use when searching for literature.

Note that in rule #2 we used the term “phrases” instead of “words.” In truth, “keywords” is a misnomer. These days, we search databases using phrases or complete sentences. This is because single-term searches yield a broader list of results than desired. For example, let’s imagine that I want to know the specifics of Jupiter’s air composition. If I type in “Jupiter,” I’ll receive a list containing any document related to Jupiter, but most of them might not be relevant. Therefore,  choose keyword phrases that comprise two to four words .

Avoid using terms already present in your research paper’s title

This is particularly true if your journal says not to include them . Why? Your research paper title is searchable and will be weighted (marked to have greater weight by a programming code), so keywords should contain a list of words that  supplement  your title’s content. Even if your journal doesn’t restrict title word use in keywords, we recommend using this valuable real estate for alternate terms (see rule #7).

Keywords should indicate the general subject matter; however,  they should not be too broad . For instance, if you are writing a paper on a newly-discovered epigenetic regulator, you might not want to use general keywords such as “cell biology” or “genetics.” These terms do little to reflect the specificity with which your potential readers search for source materials. Instead, focus on key concepts covered in your abstract.

If your research involves a key method or technique, put the term either in your title or your keywords

On that note, be careful with spelling/capitalization. While search engines, by default, ignore capitalization rules, hyphenation could be an issue.  Make sure you are using the officially recognized written form of each key term . Failure to do so might result in less hits for your paper. Google Scholar can help with finding the official, correct, and/or mostly used versions of field-specific terms.

Think of generally used alternate terms to the ones found in your title

That is, include significant abbreviations, acronyms, and other short-form or substitute names for your topic. Be careful, however, of using acronyms that could have other meanings. For example, HIV would be a safe abbreviation since most hits would relate to the disease. The term, ARC, on the other hand, has significance in many fields: computer programming, engineering, math, and biology, just to name a few. Therefore, if we mean the ARC file format, then we should use the phrase, “ARC file format,” as a keyword.

Test your keywords before submitting your paper

When you enter your keywords into various journal and academic databases like Google Scholar, do the results include papers similar to your topic? If not, revise the terms until they do.

Use keyword generators with caution

Some sites such as the one offered by the University of Texas provide keyword generators or keyword planners to help you think of other terms you could include. However, make sure that those words actually relate to your paper’s topic. You can double-check relevancy by using the terms as explained in rule #8.

We hope these quick tips help you choose the best research paper and abstract keywords. Remember, the point of these terms is to help your paper gain visibility among your target audience. So, make sure that your search terms are ones that your desired readers would use!

Wordvice Resources

If you need more general advice on writing the abstract or the Introduction, Results, Methods, and Discussion sections of your manuscript, or if you want to know how to impress the editor of your target journal with a convincing cover letter, then head over to the Wordvice academic resources pages, where you’ll find hundreds of articles on how research paper writing tips and techniques.

And before submission, don’t forget to receive professional proofreading and English editing services , including manuscript editing services , from Wordvice academic experts.

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Abstracts and keywords

Background and purpose.

An abstract is a short, descriptive preview of your work that is discoverable online and freely accessible to anyone. On Oxford Academic, abstracts are displayed in browse and search results, and readers with access can click through to the full text.

Keywords capture the topics covered in your work and are essential to determining the relevance of a piece of content to similar search terms. Abstracts and keywords (A&K) combined aid the discoverability of your content, help generate links to and from relevant content, and support the discovery of print and eBook content indexed in library catalogues or sold online.

High quality A&K help readers get to the content they are looking for—the better the A&K, the more likely your work will be read/purchased.

Providing abstracts and keywords

Abstracts and keywords are an essential part of your work and must be delivered with your manuscript at final submission. For chapter-based work, A&K must be provided for each chapter and for the full work. Editors of a multi-contributor work must ensure that the A&K are edited for consistency of format and style across the work.


The following suggestions will help you create high quality A&K.

An abstract should provide a clear idea of your work’s main arguments and conclusions, highlighting its most important points. Abstracts created at the chapter/article and full work levels must:

  • identify the content and express its thesis in the first sentence
  • summarize rather than ‘sell’ the content
  • refer to the content in the third-person neutral singular (‘it’, etc.)
  • be a single paragraph, between 100 and 250 words
  • not refer specifically to other works that are cited in the full text, unless the work is essential to the topic
  • include the accompanying keywords in context.

Select words and phrases that readers might put into a search box to find your content. Book level terms should only refer to topics that are applicable to the whole work. If a term is only used in one chapter, include it as a keyword for that chapter, but find a higher-level term that applies to the entire book (e.g. if the term ‘asylum’ appears in one chapter, you might select a less granular term that is applicable to the whole book for the full book keywords, such as ‘immigration’ or ‘human rights’).

The following points must be observed for producing keywords for both complete works and individual chapters:

  • Between five and ten keywords must be used to describe the work and each chapter.
  • Keywords longer than a single word may be used only where specialist terms are recognized and necessary; do not exceed three words.
  • Keywords should be in their basic form (e.g. singular nouns or infinitive verbs), in contrast to the abstract, where any word form may be used.
  • Be as specific as possible; avoid more general words, which may be included in many searches.
  • Accurately identify the most important topics covered in the piece of content.
  • Use abbreviations, acronyms, and initializations if these are more familiar to the readership (e.g. ‘Tony Blair’ not ‘Anthony Charles Lynton Blair’).
  • Use variants as separate keywords as necessary (e.g. ‘RAF’ and ‘Royal Air Force’).
  • Proper nouns should be presented as ‘John Smith’ rather than ‘Smith, John’. 

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Research Foundations: Choose Keywords

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From your thesis statement, identify the main concepts or keywords. You will use these to find information in search tools like library catalogs, library databases, or on the Web. By creating a list of keywords, you will be able to construct better and more efficient searches. These in turn will lead you to more plentiful and relevant information supporting your thesis.

Follow the three-step process below for discovering keywords. It is helpful to keep track of the keywords on a sheet of paper or a word processing document for reference.

Three-Steps to Choosing Keywords

1. Extract single words or short phrases.

You will not use complete sentences as you would in normal conversation to search. Leave out minor words such as articles ("a," "an," or "the") and prepositions or verb phrases ("on," "in," or "going to").

Also, use nouns (person, place, or thing) as keywords. Avoid verbs (action words) and use adjectives (descriptive words) sparingly.

2. Experiment with different synonyms.

Try thinking of synonyms (words that have the same meaning as another word) of your keywords. For example, you start with the word "trash," but you could also experiment with using the words "garbage" or “waste.” An online or printed thesaurus is a great place to find synonyms.

3. Think of related terms to describe your topic.

What are some other topics or areas related to your thesis? These may be worthy of consideration if you are having trouble finding good keywords or if you want to further refine your research focus. For example, some related terms to "pollution" are "acid rain," "global warming," or "refuse water." The related terms may be more specific or less specific than the original terms in your thesis. Each combination will change the number and type of your search results.

Choosing Search Terms Handout and Video

  • Video Tutorial (3m 43s)
  • Choosing Keywords for Research

For further explanation, take a look at this short video tutorial on choosing appropriate keywords, or search terms, for your topic.

Example of Three-Steps

Checkout the three-step keyword process in action.

Thesis Statement: Exercise improves health in the elderly.

1. Extract single words or short phrases: → exercise, health, elderly

2. Experiment with synonyms: → physical activity, fitness, working out, well-being, aging adults, older adults

3. Think of related terms: → walking, running, cardio, weight lifting, obesity, disease, diabetes

  • << Previous: Develop a Thesis Statement
  • Next: Create Search Statements >>
  • Last Updated: May 25, 2023 9:24 AM
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Q. How can I pick the best keywords to use when researching my topic?


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Answered By: Priscilla Coulter Last Updated: Jun 06, 2023     Views: 122422

The words that you type into a search box are the key to finding the most relevant articles and books.  That's why they're called key words!

You'll need to choose keywords carefully. See the steps below (or if you prefer, here is a short video ).

1.  Write out a brief description (1 or 2 sentences) of your research topic.  It can be very helpful to phrase it in the form of a question that you'd like to answer. (See the research question example below.)

2.  Identify the most important 2 - 4 words from your research question. These are your key concepts .

  • To decide which words are most important, imagine that you need to explain your topic to someone using no more than 4 words. Words like "does," "the," "in," or "of" (while useful in a sentence) won't be specific enough, so you wouldn't use those.

3.  For each key concept, make a list of other words with the same or related meanings.  These will be your keywords!

  • Use a thesaurus to find synonyms.
  • Think of specific examples or types. 
  • If your topic is something you don't know enough about yet, it can be hard to think of synonyms or examples. Find some background information  on your topic to help jump-start your brainstorming!

1.  Go to the library's homepage and find the Everything search box .

2.  Choose one keyword from each concept list.  Type those keywords into the search box. Type AND between each one (learn about Boolean operators : AND, OR, NOT ).

Examples (from our list above) :

  • students AND online classes AND social networking AND learning
  • college students AND online courses AND social media AND performance
  • learners AND online courses AND Facebook AND grades  

3.  Click search and explore the results.  Try several of your keyword combinations, and keep a list of the keywords that fetch the most relevant articles .

  • If you get too many results, try to narrow your search by adding more keywords .
  • If you get too few results, try to broaden your search by using fewer keywords .

4.   Look closely at the most relevant articles in your search results. You may see new author-supplied keywords or database subject headings that describe your topic. Add those terms to your list .

5.  Create new keyword combinations from your refined list of terms, and test them again ! 

  •  undergraduates AND online courses AND social networking
  •  student engagement AND higher education AND social networking
  • learning communities AND online courses AND social networking

6.   As you try out new keyword combinations, it can be very helpful to save the most relevant articles as you go along.

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What Are Keywords?

Once you have a working research question or thesis statement, you can begin to identify keywords for searching the library databases. These words, often nouns, express the  key concepts  (main ideas) of your research question or thesis statement. The more specific your keywords, the better chance you will have of finding the most relevant sources for your research. You will want to avoid using verbs, adjectives, or adverbs because they are not specific enough words to find useful sources. If your research question is:  

The key concepts identified as most important would be:

You will want to  avoid  the vague term "effects" from your list of keywords.

What are the effects of using social media in the online classroom?  The word "effects" is crossed out. The phrases "social media" and "online classroom" are circled.

  • << Previous: Quiz
  • Next: Related Terms >>
  • Last Updated: Nov 9, 2023 10:44 AM
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  • How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples

How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples

Published on February 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 18, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.

How to Write an Abstract

An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a thesis ,  dissertation or research paper ). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research, so that readers know exactly what your paper is about.

Although the structure may vary slightly depending on your discipline, your abstract should describe the purpose of your work, the methods you’ve used, and the conclusions you’ve drawn.

One common way to structure your abstract is to use the IMRaD structure. This stands for:

  • Introduction

Abstracts are usually around 100–300 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the relevant requirements.

In a dissertation or thesis , include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .

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Table of contents

Abstract example, when to write an abstract, step 1: introduction, step 2: methods, step 3: results, step 4: discussion, tips for writing an abstract, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about abstracts.

Hover over the different parts of the abstract to see how it is constructed.

This paper examines the role of silent movies as a mode of shared experience in the US during the early twentieth century. At this time, high immigration rates resulted in a significant percentage of non-English-speaking citizens. These immigrants faced numerous economic and social obstacles, including exclusion from public entertainment and modes of discourse (newspapers, theater, radio).

Incorporating evidence from reviews, personal correspondence, and diaries, this study demonstrates that silent films were an affordable and inclusive source of entertainment. It argues for the accessible economic and representational nature of early cinema. These concerns are particularly evident in the low price of admission and in the democratic nature of the actors’ exaggerated gestures, which allowed the plots and action to be easily grasped by a diverse audience despite language barriers.

Keywords: silent movies, immigration, public discourse, entertainment, early cinema, language barriers.

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You will almost always have to include an abstract when:

  • Completing a thesis or dissertation
  • Submitting a research paper to an academic journal
  • Writing a book or research proposal
  • Applying for research grants

It’s easiest to write your abstract last, right before the proofreading stage, because it’s a summary of the work you’ve already done. Your abstract should:

  • Be a self-contained text, not an excerpt from your paper
  • Be fully understandable on its own
  • Reflect the structure of your larger work

Start by clearly defining the purpose of your research. What practical or theoretical problem does the research respond to, or what research question did you aim to answer?

You can include some brief context on the social or academic relevance of your dissertation topic , but don’t go into detailed background information. If your abstract uses specialized terms that would be unfamiliar to the average academic reader or that have various different meanings, give a concise definition.

After identifying the problem, state the objective of your research. Use verbs like “investigate,” “test,” “analyze,” or “evaluate” to describe exactly what you set out to do.

This part of the abstract can be written in the present or past simple tense  but should never refer to the future, as the research is already complete.

  • This study will investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
  • This study investigates the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.

Next, indicate the research methods that you used to answer your question. This part should be a straightforward description of what you did in one or two sentences. It is usually written in the past simple tense, as it refers to completed actions.

  • Structured interviews will be conducted with 25 participants.
  • Structured interviews were conducted with 25 participants.

Don’t evaluate validity or obstacles here — the goal is not to give an account of the methodology’s strengths and weaknesses, but to give the reader a quick insight into the overall approach and procedures you used.

Next, summarize the main research results . This part of the abstract can be in the present or past simple tense.

  • Our analysis has shown a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
  • Our analysis shows a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
  • Our analysis showed a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.

Depending on how long and complex your research is, you may not be able to include all results here. Try to highlight only the most important findings that will allow the reader to understand your conclusions.

Finally, you should discuss the main conclusions of your research : what is your answer to the problem or question? The reader should finish with a clear understanding of the central point that your research has proved or argued. Conclusions are usually written in the present simple tense.

  • We concluded that coffee consumption increases productivity.
  • We conclude that coffee consumption increases productivity.

If there are important limitations to your research (for example, related to your sample size or methods), you should mention them briefly in the abstract. This allows the reader to accurately assess the credibility and generalizability of your research.

If your aim was to solve a practical problem, your discussion might include recommendations for implementation. If relevant, you can briefly make suggestions for further research.

If your paper will be published, you might have to add a list of keywords at the end of the abstract. These keywords should reference the most important elements of the research to help potential readers find your paper during their own literature searches.

Be aware that some publication manuals, such as APA Style , have specific formatting requirements for these keywords.

It can be a real challenge to condense your whole work into just a couple of hundred words, but the abstract will be the first (and sometimes only) part that people read, so it’s important to get it right. These strategies can help you get started.

Read other abstracts

The best way to learn the conventions of writing an abstract in your discipline is to read other people’s. You probably already read lots of journal article abstracts while conducting your literature review —try using them as a framework for structure and style.

You can also find lots of dissertation abstract examples in thesis and dissertation databases .

Reverse outline

Not all abstracts will contain precisely the same elements. For longer works, you can write your abstract through a process of reverse outlining.

For each chapter or section, list keywords and draft one to two sentences that summarize the central point or argument. This will give you a framework of your abstract’s structure. Next, revise the sentences to make connections and show how the argument develops.

Write clearly and concisely

A good abstract is short but impactful, so make sure every word counts. Each sentence should clearly communicate one main point.

To keep your abstract or summary short and clear:

  • Avoid passive sentences: Passive constructions are often unnecessarily long. You can easily make them shorter and clearer by using the active voice.
  • Avoid long sentences: Substitute longer expressions for concise expressions or single words (e.g., “In order to” for “To”).
  • Avoid obscure jargon: The abstract should be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your topic.
  • Avoid repetition and filler words: Replace nouns with pronouns when possible and eliminate unnecessary words.
  • Avoid detailed descriptions: An abstract is not expected to provide detailed definitions, background information, or discussions of other scholars’ work. Instead, include this information in the body of your thesis or paper.

If you’re struggling to edit down to the required length, you can get help from expert editors with Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or use the paraphrasing tool .

Check your formatting

If you are writing a thesis or dissertation or submitting to a journal, there are often specific formatting requirements for the abstract—make sure to check the guidelines and format your work correctly. For APA research papers you can follow the APA abstract format .

Checklist: Abstract

The word count is within the required length, or a maximum of one page.

The abstract appears after the title page and acknowledgements and before the table of contents .

I have clearly stated my research problem and objectives.

I have briefly described my methodology .

I have summarized the most important results .

I have stated my main conclusions .

I have mentioned any important limitations and recommendations.

The abstract can be understood by someone without prior knowledge of the topic.

You've written a great abstract! Use the other checklists to continue improving your thesis or dissertation.

If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

Research bias

  • Anchoring bias
  • Halo effect
  • The Baader–Meinhof phenomenon
  • The placebo effect
  • Nonresponse bias
  • Deep learning
  • Generative AI
  • Machine learning
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Supervised vs. unsupervised learning

 (AI) Tools

  • Grammar Checker
  • Paraphrasing Tool
  • Text Summarizer
  • AI Detector
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • Citation Generator

An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation ). It serves two main purposes:

  • To help potential readers determine the relevance of your paper for their own research.
  • To communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper.

Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your work more easily findable. Since the abstract is the first thing any reader sees, it’s important that it clearly and accurately summarizes the contents of your paper.

An abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200–300 words. There’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university’s requirements.

The abstract is the very last thing you write. You should only write it after your research is complete, so that you can accurately summarize the entirety of your thesis , dissertation or research paper .

Avoid citing sources in your abstract . There are two reasons for this:

  • The abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
  • The abstract should be self-contained and fully understandable without reference to other sources.

There are some circumstances where you might need to mention other sources in an abstract: for example, if your research responds directly to another study or focuses on the work of a single theorist. In general, though, don’t include citations unless absolutely necessary.

The abstract appears on its own page in the thesis or dissertation , after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, July 18). How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/abstract/

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Other students also liked, how to write a thesis or dissertation introduction, shorten your abstract or summary, how to write a literature review | guide, examples, & templates, what is your plagiarism score.


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