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LS 102 Course Materials

Introduction to Information Research

Subject Searching

Most researchers find that keyword searching, using their own words to describe a concept, is the easiest way to search the Internet, the Library Catalog and the electronic databases. However, in an effort to organize and describe resources, librarians have identified certain terms or phrases to describe a concept.

These words may not necessarily be the words you would choose. Consider that when you look in the yellow pages of a telephone directory for a doctor, you need to look under physicians. When you look for a lawyer, you need to look under attorney.

It is important to understand that underlying many of the library resources you will use is a set of terms that is controlled. There will be times when you, as a researcher, will want to become familiar with these terms.

The subject lists have different names in different library resources. Here's a set of commonly used resources and the controlled vocabulary or subject lists they employ:


Controlled Vocabulary


Library Catalog


Library of Congress Subject Headings

ERIC database


ERIC Thesaurus

Info Trac


Subject Guide



MeSH Thesaurus



Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms




Biological Abstracts

major concepts

BIOSIS authority file

Example 1: The subject assigned to a book entitled Living Pictures: The Origins of Movies written by Deac Rossell is Cinematography-History.

Example 2: An article entitled "Magic Bullets Fly Again" written by Carol Ezell in the October 2001 issue of Scientific American is indexed in the Biological Abstracts databases with these major concepts: immune system, tumor-biology

The same article is indexed in the Academic Search Complete database with these subjects: Antibodies-Research, Lymphocytes-Research, and Monoclodal Antibodies-Research.

Example 3: An article entitled "Emerging Issues in the Genetics of Dyslexia: A Methodological Preview" written by Frank B. Wood and Elena L. Grigorenko in the Journal of Learning Disabilities in November-December 2001 is indexed with these descriptors in the ERIC database: Dyslexia, Genetics, Reading Difficulties, Research Design and Statistical Analysis.

In the Academic Search Complete database, the same article is indexed with these subjects: Dsylexia-Genetic Aspects.

The important thing to understand is that when conducting a subject search in the Library Catalog or in an electronic index, you will need to know the words that have been used to index the information, and they are not always the words you would choose!