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LS 102 Course Materials

Introduction to Information Research

Searching for Sources of Information

Keyword vs. Subject Searching

Almost all online catalogs and periodical indexes and databases give you the opportunity to do both keyword and subject searching. But what's the difference between the two, and how can you use them together to create highly relevant search results?

A keyword is an important word or words about your topic. It is not limited to any one field; the search for keywords is done in the entire record in all fields. Keyword searching involves using Boolean operators, truncation and nesting. In a small database, it helps to increase the number of resources that are possible to retrieve in a search. Also, combinations of keywords, joined by Boolean operators, can help to focus a search.

When using a subject search, you must make certain that you know the correct Library of Congress Subject Heading. Subject headings or descriptors are assigned to each article as it is entered into the database. They describe what the article is about. Subject headings are found in the publication, Library of Congress Subject Headings, or in the subject area of an online catalog record.

While it is possible to search by subject, this is best used after a keyword search, since keyword is not limited to a particular field. To begin a search:

  1. Start out with a KEYWORD search and find an item that best matches your needs...
  2. Then, look at the SUBJECT HEADINGS for that item and use one to do a subject search (searches for a particular topic) and get more relevant search results!