Answered By: Amanda Starkel
Last Updated: Jun 17, 2022     Views: 179

Keyword searching is how most of us search online. We enter the terms come to mind, using natural language to describe our topic. 

Subject headings are the language that a system (most often a database) has used to classify and organize its information. It often does not align with the natural language that we use for keywords. Similarly, it's not easy to guess what a database's subject headings may be. For example - your natural language keyword may be car, but the subject heading for a database may be automobile or even something more specific like General Motors - cars. Subject headings can vary from system to system.

Keyword searching may be sufficient for your needs. However, using subject headings is the most effective way to search within a database. Many of our databases help you identify subject headings in several ways:

  • Thesaurus or Subject Headings search - enter your term and see what headings the database suggests you use
  • Subject limiter - typically in the left column of the results list, the database shows you the most common subject headings returned for your search and allows you to click and easily include them in your searches
  • Subject headings listed in record description - When you are looking at the description for an item, it often lists the associated subject headings. Most databases make these hyperlinks so you can click and run new searches based upon the terms.

Additionally, the Library of Congress subject headings used for our collection have a website to assist with subject heading identification

You may also find helpful information in the library's Searching Library Databases LibGuide at