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Research Guides

Integrated Social Sciences Program: Keywords in Social Science

Guide for the online Integrated Social Sciences program

Keyword Development

A keyword has significant cultural or social meaning. Keywords help us group or categorize information and resources together, and because of that, they can also be used to help us find information. However, in ISS we apply the Oxford definition of keywords in a specific way to explore social and cultural issues. In your ISS 350, ISS 355, and ISS 401 portfolio courses, you will be asked to identify five Keywords that connect your own intellectual interests with broader social and cultural debates that are significant to contemporary society, and which are studied in the social sciences.

Keywords are often:

  1. Socially Relevant- Currently used to describe or name social issues.
  2. Polysemous - Different meanings depending on its usage by different groups or disciplines.
  3. Categorical - Keywords are often broad and are used to describe or identify social and cultural concepts and practices.
  4. Part of a cluster of interrelated words which typically co-occur - The keyword is part of a group of words that are commonly used around a particular debate.

Structuring a Keyword

Your definitions should combine cited social science research with your own interests and analysis. While there are many ways to approach writing a keyword definition, one option is to begin your definition broadly, then narrowing your focus. For example, you might structure your definition like this:

  • Paragraph 1: A broad, interdisciplinary definition of a clearly identified keyword.
  • Paragraph 2: The keyword in the context of the particular social issue or problem you're most interested in exploring, citing relevant research.
  • Paragraph 3: Your own perspective, drawing from your scholarly interests and/or your own professional or personal experiences.

Be sure to use in-text citations to cite all sources, and include a full Works Cited section at the end of the definition.

Keyword Examples

Introductory Reading on Keywords


Scholarly encyclopedias offer a thorough and basic understanding of a topic with key terminology. Encyclopedia articles can be used to understand keywords, topics and ideas through time.