Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.

A keyword is exactly what the name implies: a word that serves as a key. In the computer world, keywords are used to unlock or expose content. In the field of information retrieval a keyword is a descriptive term used to capture the essence of topic. Several keywords might be used in describing a single document. Keywords function the same and are also known as subject headings, index terms, index headings, etc. Today, keywords are often known as tags or labels. Keywords help people access information (and create access to information) in complex systems such as library catalogs and more recently, the Internet. Internet search engines lean strongly toward keywords. Keywords may be general or specific and may be comprised of multiple words, single phrases, or even questions.

Understanding keywords is important in genealogy. With so much content now available online, it's possible to become overwhelmed with search "results." Understanding keywords and various search strategies can help users narrow the field in their research. Some tips from Google for basic searches: keep it simple; use as few [and precise] terms as possible; and use descriptive words. An understanding of Boolean and wildcard searches is also helpful. Keywords can also be used in searching for information on one's home computer and in genealogy databases. Effective keyword searches can surface buried information.

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