Research papers can be a challenge. First a student needs to dissect the assignment and find out what is being asked of them. Then they have to think up a topic and see what information is out there.
After choosing a topic, one of the trickiest parts of a research paper assignment is trying to describe what information is needed – what are the subjects involved? Are there any people and, if so, who? Where in the world, in time, did this take place? How can these be expressed in multiple ways? Answering such questions is part of the process of coming up with keywords.
An approach we’ve started using in our instruction sessions to explain the concept of keywords to students is to compare a research assignment to a picture or photograph – what does it look like? How would they describe the contents and requirements of their assignment? Using what words or phrases can students describe how they want their paper to be seen? That sounds a lot like a hashtag (#). Popular in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc.) a hashtag is placed before a word or phrase and, like a keyword, gives the reader a clue as to what is in the post, picture, or video. For example, some hashtags for this post would be #HealeyLibrary, #keywords, and #ResearchTips.
As an activity during library sessions, students form groups, are handed a photograph and a stack of post it notes, and, pretending they are posting it to their favorite social media platform, come up with as many hashtags as they can for that photograph. These can be things that they see within the photo, how the image makes them feel, clever phrases that come to mind – there really is no wrong answer. Once they’ve come up with as many as they can, we ask them to pick their best five to share to the rest of the class. Then, we ask the students to re-examine their research assignment, look for possible hashtags, and seek the help of those in their group. This gives students a starting place when it’s time to begin database searches.