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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Advanced Searching Techniques

Starting Your Research

Key Words vs. Subject Terms

Key Words are common terms used to describe your topic.

  • may be more results, but less relevant


Subject Terms (or descriptors) are official terms used to define your topic.

  • may be fewer results, but more relevant

Bottom Line: Subject terms are more accurate than keywords, and you'll get better search results by using them.

Subject Terms -- Where Do I Find Them?

Subject Terms tend to "move around" in library collections and databases.

If you are searching in the Library Catalog, then you'll find subject terms on the descriptive result for each item (by clicking on the title of the book or other item in your initial results list.

If you are searching in a library database, you'll find subjects listed under each result or as a list when you click on the title of the result. 

Some database also list Subject Terms on a side list for easy searching.

Remember: When you cannot locate the Subject Terms for an item or search, ask your friendly neighborhood librarian! We love to point them out to the savvy searcher.  

Other Helpful Skills

Polish some of the research skills that will be necessary for research, writing, and presentation across multiple academic disciplines.