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Advanced Search Techniques


Subject Headings

Subject headings

Subject Headings are standardized terms that describe a source's content. Searching by a subject heading will limit the results to works that share the same heading and, thus, the results are much more narrow in scope than a general search. Using subject headings can require some experimentation as it might take multiple attempts to identify which headings are the most effective. At times you might also find that searching by subject headings can narrow a search down too much.

Identifying Subject Headings

To see what subject headings a database uses, look for what the database might call a Thesaurus, Index, Subject Headings, Search Terms, or the like. When conducting general preliminary searches you can also get a sense of what subject headings are being used to describe your topic when exploring the sources found in the results.

How to Search by Subject Heading 

Often you can use a drop-down menu to make a search field a subject heading specific field. Additionally, subject terms can be found in search results. Select a source discovered in a search and scroll to where you see subject terms. Likely many or all of the headings will be hyperlinked. When you click on one of the links, it will limit your search to that one subject. 

Using Subject Heading Field Example

In the Sociology Abstracts example pictured below, gentrification is being searched as a subject heading by using the drop-down menu option. Also, note that there is a link that allows users to look up subjects. In this database, the link appears once "Subject heading" is selected.  

This search has the words hipster culture, the Boolean operator AND, and then the word gentrification. Next to gentrification the subject heading field is selected.

Using Subject Heading Links Example

In the second example pictured below, the researcher conducts a search using the terms hipster culture, class, and gentrification and then can see the subjects associated with one of the sources found in the search. The subject headings are hyperlinked and when clicked on will narrow the original search down to that specific heading.

This search has the words hipster culture, then the Boolean operator AND, then the word class, then the Boolean operator AND, and then the word gentrification.

A database page that lists a single source's details. It includes a list of subject headings.