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How to Research Guide

DU Libraries

Subject vs. Keyword

The two most common types of searches are keyword and subject

Keyword: When you do a keyword search, you are searching for a word or words anywhere in a record.  This is similar to searching Google.

Subject: Catalogs and databases organize information according to subject.  Results of a subject search will have a certain amount of topic similarity.  Different databases/catalogs may use different subjects.

Keyword Subject

Uses natural language - how we speak. Example: "Cap and Trade" or "high stakes testing"

Uses a "controlled vocabulary"-information is organized in a very formal way.  Example: emissions trading or educational evaluation.
Very flexible.  Terms can be combined or alternate terms used. Example: swine flu, swine influenza, H1N1 Not as flexible.  You must know which subject terms the database or catalog uses.
Often retrieve thousands of results, many of which may have little to do with your intended topic.  Results are usually more relevant to your topic.
Can search quickly. Searches take more time - you must first find your subject term and then search.

Often, keyword searches are quicker but subject searches produce better results.