Keyword searching

Keyword searching is the default search in most search tools. A keyword search:

  • finds the keywords anywhere in the record. Most searches begin with a keyword search
  • is less precise than subject searching and may return irrelevant results.
  • is good for discovering new terminology-, look out for new, unused terms and then revise your search as needed.

Watch the video below (view transcript).

Subject searching

Most databases and catalogues search tools allow subject searching. A subject search

  • only searches the subject field of the record
  • is more specific than keyword searching and will retrieve less results
  • hinges off subject terms used by database staff. They evaluate the articles and ensure that relevant subjects are applied.
  • helps you find relevant information regardless of the varying terminology used by different authors

For example:

Book jacket image for: 
 Business and its environmentThe subject terms (also called headings, descriptors or index terms) assigned to this item are:

  • Social responsibility of business
  • Industrial policy
  • Commercial law
  • Business ethics.
  • The subject terms are chosen from a set index of terms sometimes called a thesaurus.



    Note: Different search tools use different subject terms depending on their content. The subject headings in the library catalogue are quite general: subject headings in specialist databases reflect a deeper engagement with the knowledge in that area.


    Many databases will automatically suggest the best subjects to use based on your keywords. Watch the video below (view transcript).

    Keywords and subject terms can be combined using search operators.