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Library Article Database Tutorial: Keyword & Subject Term Tutorial

Keyword & Subject Term Tutorial

What's the Difference Between Keyword and Subject Term Searching?

When you want to search for a topic, you can search using words you think of that describe your concept - this is called Keyword Searching. You can also search using words that the datbase uses to index and describe your topic - this is called Subject Searching. You can think of subject searching as being similar to using the index in the back of a book to find exactly what you are looking for.

Keyword SearchSubject Search
  • Good place to start if you don't know the terms a catalog or database uses for your topic
  • Best way to ensure you get all applicable documents in a catalog or article datbase
  • Keywords are any significant word or phrase you think of to describe your topic
  • Search terms (subject headings) must come from the database's thesaurus
  • Use when searching for a new concept or jargon - for example, twitter or Pinterest
  • Use when you are searching for a broad concept, such as human trafficking
  • Searches for terms anywhere in the record (database)
  • Searches for terms in the subject field only
  • Broadens search results but may retrieve irrelevant materials
  • Narrows search results but retrieves all relevant materials available
  • Usually the default search
  • Usually available from advanced search screens
  • More flexible search
  • Less flexible search
  • May end up with too many or too fiew results depending on keywords used
  • Need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term

How Do I Come Up with Useful Keywords?

Most times when we search on Google, we plug in the first thing we think of or sometimes a phrase, and Google usually brings back something from the list of results that's sort of related to our search. With a database, less is better than more - and the idea is to figure out very specific keywords to plug in to your search. For instance, if you write down a sentence about your topic - What are the causes of climate change? Then you would go through and get rid of the unimportant words and you're left with your keywords - causes climate change. Switch that around so the most important words come first: climate change causes. And then, because you want the databases to find article with the words climate change together, put those in quotes and you end up with this: "climate change" causes (or cause). That should pull up some article that fit with what you're looking for. Then, once you find articles that fit what you want, you can go to the article record and look under the article summary and see a list of subject terms - those are the terms the database uses to index the articles - and often, searching by subject term will give you what you're looking for.

How Do I Find Subject Headings?

  1. You can find the list of available subject terms (thesaurus) in the EBSCO article databases by going into a particular article database, such as Academic Search Premier, and clicking on the Subject link found at the top of the page.

    Subject Terms search

  2. You can also start by doing a keyword search, using words you naturally think of to describe your topic and then select an article record that's very close to or exactly on your topic. Read through the article description to find the subject terms or descriptors associated with this particular article and then repeat your search using the subject headings or descriptors listed.

    Article description with subjects