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Database Searching Basics: Subject Search

Practical guide covering fundamentals of database searching technique.

How to Search for Articles - by Subject

Subject (Heading) Searching

Searching by subject retrieves all records within a database that share your topic focus. To perform a subject search in Academic Search Complete:

1. Find & click the Subject Terms link (top left in blue utility header).


2. Enter your topic term or phrase in the Browse search box.


3. Click the Browse button.

4. Locate & select  the subject term that corresponds with your search term concept (check the box to the left of the term to select).¹ 


5. Click the Add button to add the subject term to your search.


6. Click the Search button to retrieve search results. 

Your search will retrieve a list of article records whose topic content matches the content focuse of your search terms.


¹ Hint: "Use" indicates that the linked term or phrase that follows is used instead of your search term for that subject.



What are Subject Headings?

Subject Headings are a set of specially designated terms in a database that ...

link together conceptually similar records, and 

describe the content focus of record items.

How does Subject searching differ from keyword?

The difference lies in the number of fields searched within a database record.

Subject searching is restricted to subject heading field in a database record. 

Keyword searching typically covers the most text-rich fields within a database (title, abstract & subject headings in CINAHL for instance).

How Can They Help Me?

Subject Headings can increase the speed and efficiency of ...

 search retrieval - subject searching (where available) will pull the most topically relevant search results.

 records assessment - subject headings describe the content of a record & can quickly indicate whether or not an item matches your requirements.

Can I search the same subject headings across different databases? 

Not necessarily.

Some databases use the same subject terms as others (example: Cochrane Library & PubMed both use MeSH terms).

However, many databases utilize a unique subject heading vocabulary. 

Safest Option? 

Check the subject thesaurus of your target database before (searching) to ensure you have the correct subject terms for your topic. 


Databases with Subject Headings

UT Tyler databases with Subject Headings include:

Academic Search Complete

CINAHL Complete - CINAHL Subject Headings

Cochrane Library - MeSH Terms


Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition


PubMed/MEDLINE - MeSH Terms

UT Tyler Catalog - Library of Congress Subject Headings

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