When searching the Library catalog for information on a subject, you can search by keyword (similar to how you would conduct a search in an online search engine like Google) or by subject heading. Use this page to determine the best strategy for a particular search.
|Keyword Searching||Subject Searching|
|Natural language - may search for any term or group of terms||Pre-defined “controlled” vocabulary- must search for assigned subject headings|
|Familiar||Not always intuitive|
|Searches all fields in catalog record||Searches subject and/or descriptor fields only|
|Flexible - can combine terms||
|May yield irrelevant results||Subheadings can help to focus results|
|May not yield all relevant results||Results are usually relevant to topic|
Keyword searching is a type of searching you are probably already familiar with. It is how you would typically search web search engines like Google. You think of words or phrases relevant to your topic and enter them in the search box. When searching the library catalog, your keywords and phrases are searched for in all of the fields of the catalog record. It is important to remember that because we are using natural language, the word you use to describe a subject may not be the same word used by all of the authors in the field.
Keyword Search when...
How to search by keyword in the Mason library catalog
Subject searching is a type of searching that allows you to look for categories (or subject headings) instead of keywords. Subject terms are searched for only in the subject field. When the catalog record for an item is created it is assigned at least one subject heading. These subject headings are based on a pre-defined vocabulary in which all items determined to be about the same subject are given the same subject heading regardless of the term used by the author. A drawback of many of these pre-defined vocabularies is that the words chosen are not always the most intuitive or obvious choices.
Subject Search when...
How to search by subject in the Mason library catalog
If you know the subject heading, access the library’s catalog search page, highlight subject heading in the list under Find Results in: and enter your search term(s) in the search box. If you don’t know a subject heading for your topic, try doing a keyword search first. Take a look at the record of an item that seems to best represent what you are looking for and review what subject headings are listed. The subject headings are listed in the catalog record next to the heading Subject(s).
Each of these subjects is hyperlinked and will take you to a list of headings where you can choose to see all of the titles which have been assigned the same subject heading by clicking on the number in the column Titles.
*Some content adapted from the University of Alaska Fairbanks http://library.uaf.edu/ls101-subject-vs-keyword
For more assistance with subject searching, Ask a Librarian.