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Types of Searches

Once you have selected a database using the information discussed in Chapter 4, you need to determine how that database can be searched.

There are two basic types of searches:

  • Keyword search
  • Subject Search

What is a keyword search?

Keywords are significant words or phrases that you choose to describe your research topic or the content of a document (i.e. a book, an article, etc.). When you search for information using keywords, your search results will include any item that contains your keyword anywhere in the document. Remember that the article you find may not necessarily be about your topic.

You typically search an online search engine like Google using keywords. Just think of important words or phrases that are relevant to your topic, type them into the search box and get results!

What is a subject search?

Subject Headings or Subject Terms are also words or phrases that describe your research topic or the content of a document. Subject terms are different from keywords because they are assigned by an expert like a cataloger or a database creator in advance using what is known as a "controlled vocabulary." A controlled vocabulary is a list of standardized terms used by the database to describe its content. 

This is the most precise way to search a database and will give you the most relevant results. BUT it's less flexible than keyword searching because you need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term to search with.

For example: If you were to do a subject search for "death penalty" in a database that uses the assigned subject heading "capital punishment" to describe all of its articles on that topic, your search would not be successful.



Chapter 5 — Page 3