University Libraries

Subject vs. Keyword Searching

Two common ways of searching for a topic are a Subject search and a Keyword search.  Many databases, including library catalogs and article research databases, will allow you to choose one of these methods of searching.  This chart will help you to determine what each method can do.

Keyword Searching

Subject Searching

Words found in titles, abstracts and subjects Based on an official list of terms, only searches in Subject field.
Terms taken from actual document Terms assigned by an indexer
More items usually found, but tend to be less relevant Fewer items usually found, but tend to be more relevant
Have to think of multiple ways of describing the same topic (combine keywords with OR) There is only one 'right' way to describe the topic.
All variants can be used (-s, -al, -ing, etc), or use a wildcard such as '*' to find multiple word endings. Variations of words limited
Can combine words from multiple topics Cannot easily combine more than one topic.
Last Updated: 7/1/19