Article databases and library catalogs use what is called a "controlled vocabulary" to describe and categorize books and articles. Often this controlled vocabulary doesn't sound like a phrase or word choice you would use to describe a topic in normal conversation. The controlled vocabulary can make searching easier and also more difficult.
It can be easier because the same word combinations are used across different systems and vendors, making it possible to use the same search terms and phrases no matter what database or catalog is being searched.
It can be more difficult because you can attempt to do a subject search, but if you aren't using the controlled vocabulary, you can get fewer or less relevant searches.
You can use the indexes provided in online databases to discover subject headings and begin to develop your search strategy. The Library of Congress, the source of subject headings for library resources, provides a way to search their database of subject headings.
The Library of Congress Authorities is a free government website that anyone can search. You can search for subject headings, titles, companies and names. Some headings make sense and are just what you would expect them to be and others can be confusing! Watch the video on the left for searching tips.
The article databases that the library provides access to also provides a source for discovering search terms. Only rarely is the language used in the database as subject headings different. Specialty topics, such as those provided by the National Library of Medicine, can occasionally be different, but those differences are rare.
Each database will have a subject list, thesaurus or index that is provided to aid in searching. Depending on the database and the type of list that it provides, searching can vary, but is fairly consistent.
Watch the video on the left for searching tips.
If you have trouble searching for and finding subject terms, please ask your instructor or one of our librarians for help!