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Research 101: A Self-Guided Tutorial

Research Smarter

12 - Subject Headings

Use Subject Headings!

Are you having trouble finding relevant articles with your keyword searches?  Subject terms are an effective way to find focused information on any topic. Try searching library databases by subject. You can also limit by subject after a keyword search.

What is a Subject Heading?

Subject headings are standardized tags that describe the content of a book or article. They tell you what the item is about. You can use these tags to find material on the same topic regardless of the words used in the material’s text. For example, if you are researching Martin Luther King, Jr.,  searching for King as a subject can help you find books and articles where King's name doesn't appear in the title.

Keyword Searching Subject Heading Searching
Use common or informal language Use formal, academic, or discipline-specific language
Can generate many irrelevant results Lists highly relevant results for each topic
Can use any term to describe topic to find relevant information Need to know specific subject heading or vocabulary to search in subject heading list
Will search for keyword in any field Will only search in subject heading or descriptor field