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HHS/CLM 241: Health and Medical Care Delivery Systems: Keywords versus Subject Headings

Clinical Leadership and Management, Fall 2019

Things all Databases have in Common: Options for Searching

Keywords
vs.
Subjects
  • natural language words describing your topic - good to start with
  • pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database
  • more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways
  • less flexible to search by - need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • database looks for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together
  • database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear
  • may yield too many or too few results
  • if too many results - also uses subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject
  • may yield many irrelevant results
  • results usually very relevant to the topic

[from MIT Libraries]

PUBMED EXAMPLE: Searching Keywords vs. Subject Terms

(Part II of a series)