An Online Tutorial Taking You Through the Steps of the Library Research Process Subject Searching

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Tutorial Contents:
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  2. Avoiding Impulse Buys
  3. Size & Shape of Information
  4. Most Bang for Your Buck
  5. Trying it on for Size
  6. Don't Shoplift!
Subject Searching

Subject  searching uses the language of the database to describe a topic.  Instead of describing your topic using your own words, you need to describe your topic using the words of the database.  When a new source is entered into a database, it is given subject headings to describe the topics covered in that source.  Each database has its own language or vocabulary, sometimes called controlled vocabulary.  So, for example, a database might use the phrase "motion pictures" in place of the terms "movies" or "films". 

Subject searching works best when your topic is broad or when you are using ambiguous terms.  The one drawback with subject searching is determining what "headings" a particular database uses to describe a topic.  Many databases will guide you by using what is known as "cross references."  These work by referring you to the correct heading.  So, if you type in movies, the database might say "see motion pictures."

Once you know the correct subject heading to describe your topic, subject searching can be a very powerful search method because it will pull together all of the sources about your topic regardless of different terminology used within the sources themselves. 

Often however, it works best to first do a keyword search.  From your results, find a source that looks promising and look at the subject headings assigned to that source.  Then go back and search using those subject headings.  This can be a very effective way of using both keyword searching and subject searching to get the best results.

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