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Database Searching Tips

Keywords vs. Subject Headings

  • Subject headings (sometimes known as descriptors) describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic. 
  • Searching by subject headings is often the most precise way to search databases.  
  • Most databases have a defined set of subject terms (a.k.a "controlled vocabulary"). Many subject terms are common to all databases, but be aware that they may vary from database to database.
  • Keyword searches look for your terms anywhere in the record--e.g., in the title, abstract, subject heading, or other notes. Keyword searches may be less precise or relevant than searches using prescribed subject terms.

Indentifying Subject Headings

Option 1:

Start with a keyword search.

Browse your results until you find 2 or 3 relevant titles.

Look at the "subject" or "descriptor" assigned to the titles and either use those links or re-do your search using the terms listed.

Option 2:

Look to see if the database has an online thesaurus to browse for subjects that match your topic. (Check the "Refine your results" section or  "Help" links inside the databases).