About This Search


Search Strategies

Keyword & Subject Searching:

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) for a particular database.

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

The main disadvantage to keyword searching is the potential retrieval of large search results, some of which will be 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 JSTOR) many of the ones we subscribed to at Brown offer this option. These databases provide a list of subjects, also known as a thesaurus, descriptors or controlled vocabulary. This list ensures that no matter what terminology the author used, articles on the same topic can be retrieved under the same subject heading. Subject headings represent the main concepts of the document and group together materials on the same topic.

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.

Preparing a Search Strategy:

Read and analyze your assignment; ask yourself this question: are you writing

  • an analytical paper (explain, compare, contrast) or
  • an argumentative paper (argue, persuade, evaluate)?
Formulate a statement that summarizes the main points of your paper and can be turned into a research question.

Define what sources you need to discuss and answer your research question.

Start your search for sources. If you have difficulties finding sources, you may want to revise your statement according to documents or materials you found. It is OK to revise a paper topic if you find sources that fascinate you and will make your paper more interesting.

  • Identify the type of sources you need: books, films, articles?
  • Are you looking for primary texts/images or for critical works?
  • Have you considered using the unique resources in the Library's Special Collections?

Identify the terms you will use in your search:

  • some will be keywords
  • some will be more precise terms called subject headings or descriptors.
  • Think of synonyms and alternative words or concepts.
  • Make use of the advanced features of Josiah and databases

Evalutate your search results:

  • Is you search result too large? too small?
  • Who authored the documents you retrieved? experts? scholars?
  • Do your sources have an index or a bibliography?

Take the time to plan your research and use the value added tools that will make your work more efficient and successful.