Q. What are subject headings and why do I need them for searching databases?


Subject searching allows you to search a database or catalogue using pre-defined categories, also known as subject headings or controlled vocabulary. Using a database's subject headings allow you to search more precisely, to retrieve more targeted results.

The list of subject terms used by a database, also known as the thesaurus, will vary according to the database and can include thousands of terms.  For example, Medline (a medical database) uses a thesaurus called Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), which only includes subjects related to medicine. Business Source Premier (a business database) uses a thesaurus called Business Thesaurus, which only includes subjects related to business. The thesaurus is regularly updated, to reflect new trends or new research in a subject.

Each article in a database may be assigned multiple subject terms.  To narrow your search, consider combining multiple subject terms, or combine subject terms with keywords, using Boolean operators.

For guidance on this, please see the FAQs below:

  • Last Updated Dec 15, 2017
  • Views 342
  • Answered By Marc Forster

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