Keywords describe your topic in natural language, and can be combined in any number of ways. Keyword searching is the most common approach to beginning the research process.
- Keyword searching does not consider meaning or context of terms. Homonyms (words with the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings) are particularly troublesome.
- A database searches for keywords anywhere in a source's record (title, author name, abstract, subject heading, etc.), which often produces too many, too few, or irrelevant results.
Subject headings make-up a controlled vocabulary used by databases to describe content and organize sources. Subject headings coalesce synonyms and like terms, topics, and concepts under a single term.
- Subject headings are pre-defined words, not natural language. (Look for a Subjects or Thesaurus link in the database to reveal its list of subjects.)
- Subject headings usually produce very relevant results.