Answered By: Katie Hutchison
Last Updated: Dec 20, 2016     Views: 107

The basic difference between keywords and subjects is that subjects (or "subject headings") have been predetermined, while keywords have not.

A keyword is an easy place to start because you can use any word that seems to fit your search; this is called "natural language" searching.  You may notice that you'll almost always get at least some results this way, but they may not all be relevant.  This is because the catalog will bring up any result that has the word you used anywhere in its record (the record is the information you see in the catalog, including the title, description, location in the library, etc). 

Searching by subject, on the other hand, will usually bring back fewer results but they will often be more accurate.  However, in order to search by subject, you have to know the word or phrase the catalog uses to describe your topic in the "subject heading" field of the record. Because the possible terms for subject headings have been predetermined, if you don't already know the exact term, it may seem like there are no results on your topic.  But that's probably not true!  If you are having trouble finding the correct subject heading and/or keywords for your topic, don't hesitate to ask for help at the reference desk or contact a librarian.

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