Q. How do I know the difference between a keyword and a subject in the library catagloue or a database?


Subjects terms (or subject headings) are "library speak". Subject headings are created by librarians to describe a topic. Sometimes this is referred to as controlled vocabulary.

A keyword search uses everyday words and phrases to describe your topic. You'll usually get several results this way, but they may not all be relevant. This is because your search terms can appear anywhere in the record, such as the title, author, subject or summary.

Searching by subject heading will often bring back fewer results but they will often be more accurate.  To search by subject you have to know the specific word or phrase used to describe your topic. The controlled vocabulary used will vary from database to database. So, subject terms used in CINAHL will not necessarily be the same as subject terms used in MEDLINE. Each database will have its own thesaurus or list of subject terms that you are able to search.

We can help you find the correct subject heading and/or keywords for your topic. Come by the library or get in touch with us via email or phone.



  • Last Updated May 26, 2017
  • Views 166
  • Answered By Hannah Elliott

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