This page contains enriched content visible when JavaScript is enabled or by clicking here. Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

CIS 1103 - Introduction to Computing: Keyword versus Subject Searching

Keyword vs. Subject Searching

 

 

Keyword Search uses any words/phrases that you choose

Subject Heading search uses a "controlled vocabulary"

— also known as a descriptor, thesaurus term, or subject heading created by the Library of Congress system; article databases might also have their own unique subject headings

Advantages

  • Allows natural language searching

  • Searches anywhere in the record

  • Created by you, the user

  • Don't need to know the "controlled vocabulary"

Advantages

  • Computer interprets your search — by matching your search with an organized list of subjects

  • Better, more precise results because it only searches the Subject field in the record

Disadvantages

  • Results can be messy because some of them are irrelevant to your needs

  • Risky: Garbage in, garbage out; what you type is what you get; — there is no interpretation

Disadvantages

  • Subject headings are not flexible because they must be selected from a "controlled" list of words

  • Requires thesaurus or index

  • No guessing allowed

Examples of Keyword Terms

  • Native Americans

  • Cars

  • Movies or films

  • United States and civil war

  • Star Wars

Examples of Library of Congress Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America

  • Automobiles

  • Motion pictures

  • United States—History—Civil War, 1861-1865

  • Strategic Defense Initiative ("star wars") or Star Wars Films
 

Source:  Our many thanks to the Reference Librarians at Union Institute & University Library for the use of this portion of their Library Research Guide and to the Reference Librarians at LaSierra University for this portion of their Research Guide.)