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ENGL 102 - English Composition II - Schmidt

Keyword vs. Subject Searches in the Databases

After you have searched in general databases for information, you will want to start thinking about the subject of your topic and search for subject headings in subject-specific databases. This video will help you with doing a subject search. 

Keyword vs. Subject

When you type things into database search boxes, you are, by default, doing what is known as a keyword search. When you are looking for information on certain topics it can be helpful to do a subject search instead. However, some databases' subject headers are not as robust or descriptive, so a highly targeted keyword search might be better in some cases. Here are some key differences between the two search types of searches:

Keyword Search Subject Search
  • searches anywhere in the record for the words you typed
  • provides a lot more, but possibly unrelated, results
  • useful if you know that you have the correct words
  • search is the same regardless of database
  • has been tagged by a librarian as being relevant to the assigned subject
  • provides fewer, but more relevant, results
  • useful when multiple terms describe the same idea (ex. drugs, pharmaceuticals, medication)
  • different databases might use different vocabulary

Subject Specific Databases

Sometimes you may be struggling to find the right information in the general databases. If your topic is highly specialized, you may have more success in a subject-specific database. If you aren't sure or are having trouble, you should get in touch with a librarian!