Keyword vs. Subject Searching
The Research Guide has been discontinued. Please use the newer UI&U Library Tutorial.
Help us keep course content updated. Email the library at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know where you found a link to the Research Guide. Thank you!
Sometimes it is beneficial to try a subject search on your topic, which can give you more precise results. What is the difference between keyword and subject searching?
- A subject heading search only searches in the subject/descriptor field. If you do not know a subject heading to search on, do a keyword search first. When you find a good resource, check out the subject headings listed in the record and use it as a gateway to find similar materials. Note: you can combine subject headings and keywords in your search
- A keyword search does not use a controlled vocabulary and will find your search terms in any number of descriptive fields (title, abstract, etc.). Before beginning a keyword search, spend a few minutes brainstorming synonyms and alternative spellings. A thesaurus can help with this process.
- Narrow search (Retrieves potentially fewer items)
- Searches only in the subject/descriptor field
- Search terms must be selected from a controlled vocabulary list like the Library of Congress Subject Headings or a database’s thesaurus
- High degree of relevancy
- Broad Search (Retrieves a potentially large number of items)
- Searches in any number of descriptive fields like title, subject, and/or document text
- Search terms can be any concepts or words/phrases that you choose
- High degree of inclusiveness
|Examples of Keyword Terms
- Native Americans
- Movies or films
- United States and civil war
|Examples of Subject Headings
- Indians of North America
- Motion pictures
- United States History Civil War, 1861-1865
- A subject heading on your exact topic exists
- Want precise results immediately
- There is no subject heading for your topic (topic is very current)
- Database does not allow subject searches
- Subject headings are too broad or too specific