Answered By: Neal Smith
Last Updated: Aug 04, 2015     Views: 8

Keyword searching is when a database or search engine looks for the words the searcher types in the search box anywhere in the title, full-text, or indexes. Most search engines and many library databases search by keyword. You get more “hits” with this method.

Subject searching is when the computer searches a specific index of terms also called a controlled vocabulary. Usually a person assigns the terms from the controlled vocabulary to the resource. Search engines do not use subject searching, but most library databases do.

Why use subject searching? It is often a better way to focus a search. A subject search will bring together articles that are on the same topic even if the authors used different language. For example, a keyword search of an article database for "heart attack" would miss the articles that use myocardial infarction instead, and vise versa.  But if the controlled vocabulary in the database used the term "myocardial infarction" for heart attack, a subject search for "myocardial infarction" would find articles on heart attacks that use either myocardial infarction or heart attack.

Most library databases include a link to the subject terms so that you can figure out what terms to use in subject searching. You can often also do a keyword search and then limit your search results by picking from a list of the subjects that appear in the results.

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