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Research skills tutorial

Your guide to success!

Step 1.3 Brainstorming techniques

In the English language, there is usually more than one word that means the same as your keyword.

Use a thesaurus to find alternative words for your keywords.

Read encyclopedias or textbooks to get some background knowledge about your topic and identify related topics.


Extrapolation means to think about broader, narrower and related topics. For example, if your topic is mental illness you might think about:

Broader: mental health, psychology

Narrower: depression, anxiety

Related: self-esteem, wellness, confidence

Keywords and variations

The terminology used in one country may vary from that used in another, so both words could be used in an international database:

  • Autumn (Australia) and Fall (America)
  • Tourism (Australia) and Travel (America)
  • Holidays (Australia) and Vacation (America)


Think about broader or narrower keywords related to your topic:

Broad keyword Narrow keyword
"information technology"

email, Internet, tablets, computers


  • "information technology" (broad)
  • email, Internet, tablets or computers (narrow)


Consider whether there is an alternate way to spell a word.  This is often the difference of a single letter:

  • "s" or "z" = organisation (Australian spelling) and organization (American spelling)
  • "our" or "or" = labour (Australian spelling) and labor (American spelling)


A thesaurus can help you identify related topics and words, or you can browse the Library of Congress Subject Headings available online.


Creating a concept map

A concept map can help you understand your topic.  The map can help you define the relationships between different topics within a subject.

The concept map below is based on the example topic about Australian culture and its portrayal in the media (see Identifying keywords).


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