About This Search


Keyword and Subject Searches

Searches different parts of the record, including title and abstract Searches only subject heading/descriptor field
Searches for any word or phrase Searches from existing list of subject headings
May retrieve irrelevant records High degree of relevancy
Good for obscure topics Good for common topics
Consistent use of language as we speak it in all databases Different databases use different subject headings
Good substitute for a subject search when you do not know the authorized subject heading form Precise and effective way to look for materials on any given topic if you are familiar with LC subject headings or other controlled vocabularies/theasaurus.
Also known as Word Search Also know as Descriptor or Thesaurus Search

Keyword Searching
A keyword search looks for words anywhere in the record. It allows you to use your own words, rather than the controlled vocabulary (i.e. subject heading) that a particular database uses.

Keyword may also be used as a substitute for a title or author search when you have incomplete title or author information.

The main disadvantage of keyword searches is that your search term may be found out of context.

Subject Searching
Trying to find all the variations and synonyms for your keywords can be frustrating and time consuming. Many databases offer an alternative known as subject searching.

Doing subject searches is a precise and effective way to look for materials on any given topic.

While not all databases index, catalog or classify their records by subject headings (i.e. full-text databases such as Lexis Nexis) many of the ones we subscribed to at Brown offer this option. In databases that provide subject searches, each record is assigned a subject heading from a predetermined list of possibilities, sometimes known as a thesaurus or controlled vocabulary. This list ensures that no matter what terminology the author used, articles on the same topic can be retrieved with one subject heading.

Subject headings represent the main concepts of the document and group together materials on the same topic. They are also known as controlled vocabulary, descriptors, or thesaurus terms.

Different databases use different subject headings. For example, one database may use Learning Ability instead of Intelligence. When you are searching a wide variety of databases, be prepared to deal with many different subject headings.

Subject searches may be difficult if you are not familiar with the standardized words and phrases that are already programmed into a database (i.e. controlled vocabulary), however on those occasions when you do know the subject headings used by a particular database, you will definitely be able to construct more effective searches than if you rely on keyword searches.

There is one easy way to do subject searches if you are not familiar with a given controlled vocabulary:

  • Begin with a keyword search:
  • Enter your keyword search terms, and view the list of results.
  • Click on a title you think fits into what you are looking for, and view its full record.
  • Scroll down the page until you get to Subjects. Most subject headings are hyperlinked.
  • Click on the subject heading that best suits your topic (more than one may be assigned).

Don't limit yourself to just one way of searching.

Most databases are equipped with advance search capability and some allow keyword searching within the Subject or descriptor field (i.e. Worldcat). In those cases, you may combine keywords with subject headings.

Remember that a keyword search may be the best way to find the correct subject heading for a subject search.