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Keyword Vs. Subject Searching
If you don't know the title or author of an item, or if you are searching for literature on a topic, you will probably rely on keyword or subject searches. Successful searching often depends on understanding the difference.
Keyword Searches

Keyword searches are similar to Internet searches with Google in that the database will look for the words you use wherever they may be on a page. Regardless of whether the word is in a title, author name, place of publication or footnote, the page will be returned as a result.

Subject Searches
Subject searches, on the other hand, only return results in which the term being used appears in the subject field. Databases have different interfaces and use different terms, but most will provide these two options for searching

Keyword or Subject Search?
  Do you know appropriate subjects?
Use a subject search unless you want to combine terms.
  Do you want to combine terms?
Use a keyword search.
  Is there little information about your topic?
Use a keyword search.
  Does your subject search return 'no results'?
Use a keyword search.
Compare
Subject vs. Keyword Searches:
    Keywords Searches
    • Search for: Records that have the search term anywhere within them.
    • Volume: Depending on the terms you use, searches may retrieve no results or thousands. Searches with general terms often return many results..
    • Relevance: Varies. Results may be completely unrelated to your topic. For example, a search for 'Philadelphia' returns records for every book published by the University of Pennsylvania Press (located in 'Philadelphia') regardless of whether the work is about Philadelphia.
    • Flexibility: High: Terms can be combined in complex ways to design effective searches.

    Subject Searches
    • Search for: Records that have the search term in the subject headings part of that record.
    • Volume: Varies widely. Some searches will retrieve hundreds of results, but, if you choose a nonexistent subject term, you will get none.
    • Relevance: High as long as you identify the correct subject for your topic.
    • Flexibility: The flexibility of your search is limited by the manner in which subjects are structured in the database that you are searching.
Did you know?
In most databases you can use a keyword search to locate a subject heading. This allows you to combine the ease of a keyword search with the structure of a subject search.
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