Last Updated: Nov 07, 2022     Views: 15

Subject headings yield precise, focused searches using a controlled vocabulary to describe a concept.

Each database has its own vocabulary allowing for consistency of terms for all records in that database. Subject headings are assigned to each article by an indexer who reads each article and determines the main subjects. When searching a different database, you must determine its unique subject headings.  

Searching subject headings instead of keywords removes the need to worry about spelling variations.

To find subject headings for your topic:

  • See if the database has an online thesaurus to browse for subjects that match your topic.
  • Most databases provide a list or thesaurus with definitions of their subject headings.
  • Subject Headings tend to be organized hierarchically so that you can browse for related, broader, & narrower subject headings.

Another way to find subject headings:

  • Start with a keyword search.
  • Choose 2 or 3 results that are relevant.
  • Look at the Subject or Descriptor field and write down the terms used.
  • Redo your search using those terms.

Your results will be more precise than your initial keyword search.


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