Subject Headings

Script of video:

Welcome to this tutorial on Search Strategy: Using Subject Headings brought to you by the Allyn and Betty Taylor Library.

In this tutorial you'll learn what Subject Headings are and how to use them in your search.  By using Subject Headings you can often avoid frustration.

You will save time and locate useful terms that might not have occurred to you. The end of the book index is similar to tagging in Facebook.

If you are interested in looking up a recipe, you have the option to look up an ingredient in the index to locate recipes which contain that ingredient.

In this example, mushroom is an index term and it will help you to find all recipes that have mushrooms in them.

Databases and library catalogues are organized in a similar fashion. Subject Headings are digital index terms a cache of the essence of the topic of an article or a book helping you locate them instead of coming up a synonym keywords you can try to use a specific Subject Heading which describes those keywords.

For example, if you were searching a topic related to Animal Protection, you should try keywords such as Cruelty to Animals, Mistreatment of Animals, Animal Abuse, or Animal Welfare.

Because different authors might use any of these terms to describe Animal Protection.

If you look up Library Congress Subject Headings all these terms collectively are described as Animal Welfare. Therefore by simple search for Animal Welfare as a Subject Heading.

All books about Animal Protection, Cruelty to Animals, Mistreatment of Animals, or Animal Abuse in the Library of Congress will be pulled together.

While using keywords is fast and easy, as we all know by searching Google, you will only retrieve those articles in which your term appears in. The results might be relevant or not.

However, using Subject Headings, you are searching for the topic of the text. Therefore, your results will be relevant. Keep in mind that finding an appropriate Subject Heading is time consuming and requires a good knowledge of the database for the system that you are using.

Different databases uses different terminology for Subject Headings.

Engineering Village calls them Controlled Vocabulary. [Note: Western Libraries no longer subscribes to Engineering Village.] In PubMed they're called MeSH, which stands for Medical Subject Headings. CINAHL calls them Subject Headings. Academic Search Complete calls them Subject Terms.

To learn how to find and use appropriate Subject Headings. Let's conduct a search using Academic Search Complete, a multi-disciplinary database. We are interested in finding articles related to magnetic susceptibility of DNA.

We type magnetic susceptibility in the first search box and Deoxyribonucleic acid in the second one. Our search retrieves one article.

This article seems relevant. Click on the title to the Subject Terms assigned to it. Two out of five subject terms are relevant to your topic.

Academic Search Complete uses DNA instead of Deoxyribonucleic acid to organize articles that are about DNA.

Go back to the search box and revise your search using magnetic susceptibility and DNA as Subject Terms.

Our search retrieves seven articles and I bet most of them are relevant to your topic.

While Subject Headings are help us conduct a more effective search, they might not be that useful if your topic is very new or related to an emerging field.

This is also true for some topics where very little has been published on them. In those cases, using keywords searching will be the best approach to locate anything that can possibly be out there.

If you need more assistance with using a particular database, contact us.

And don't forget to check out our other Videos and How-Tos.

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