Think of subject headings as tags, categories, or topics assigned by each database vendor to the articles. It's another way to possibly find more articles that didn't come up in your initial searches.
Do remember, however, that each vendor chooses its own set of tags. So, what works in one database, won't necessarily work in another. This tagging of specific subject headings is called "controlled vocabulary."
|Keyword Searching||Subject Heading Searching|
|Good for obscure or contemporary topics||Good for general and universal topics|
|Can generate many irrelevant results||Lists highly relevant results for each topic|
|Can use any term to describe the topic to find relevant information||Need to know specific subject heading or vocabulary to search in subject heading list|
|Will search for a keyword in any field||Will only search in subject heading or descriptor field|
Let's say you find just a few articles, but they aren't quite what you're looking for.
You can look at an article's subject terms to guide you to articles with the same subject terms. This is a great way to find articles that may not have found in your initial searches.
In an EBSCOhost Database like Academic Search Complete, you also can use the Subject Guide/Thesaurus/Index in the top navigation to verify the subject tags to search for. It takes your term or phrase and suggests EXACT words or phrases used by the database to find articles on that topic. You’ll want to look up several terms that match your ideas in order to find the best terms “tagged” on your topic.
For example, if I search for the subject <Cat's Cradle> in the Academic Search Complete Subject Guide, it tells me to use <String Figures> instead.
If I had just searched for Cat's Cradle, using the field limiter Subject, I wouldn't have had any results.
What if you want to search for articles about boys but there are multiple subjects and you're not yet sure of what exactly the search term might be. You can type in <Boys*> (see Truncation) and, depending on the database you're in, find all the subject headings with that word in it, including <Backstreet Boys (Musical Group)> and <Teenage Boys>.