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STEM Summer 2020: Natural History of Plants: Database Searching

Keyword vs. Subject Headings

Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines (ex. Google). Think of important words or phrases and type them into the search fields to get results.

When you search by keyword you are searching for words and phrases that can be found anywhere in the text of the article.

Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic. Searching by subject headings is the most precise way to search article databases.

To find subject headings for your topic:

  • Look to see if the database has an online thesaurus to browse for subjects that match your topic.
  • Start with a keyword search, using words/phrases that describe your topic (ex. “invasive plants”).
  • Browse the results; choose 2 or 3 articles that are relevant.
  • Look at the Subject Headings listed below the article title and note the terms used.
  • Redo your search using those terms.
  • Your results will be more precise than your initial keyword search.

Using the Database Thesaurus

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