Finding Articles Using Subject Terms

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Welcome to this Information and Library Services tutorial on using Subject Terms to find articles in library databases. This tutorial will take about 4 minutes to review. 

When conducting research in a database, you can search by using keywords or Subject Terms. 

A keyword search in a database is similar to searching the Internet using Google or Yahoo! Keywords can be located anywhere within a document. 

They can be found in the article or journal title, author names, summary, or full text of an article. 

Keywords may be totally unrelated to each other—and even unrelated to the topic you are researching. 

For example, if you use the word market as a keyword, you will retrieve articles about the stock market—but you also may retrieve articles about grocery stores or farmers markets. 

Subject Terms, sometimes called descriptors, are words that reflect the main focus of an article in a database. You can use Subject Terms to create searches that are more precise than ones created by just using keywords. This will help you to find articles that address a particular subject. 

For this tutorial, the EBSCO database Business Source Complete will be used as a demonstration. 

For example, you are interested in conducting research on the accounting practices used at the Enron Corporation. 

You can begin by conducting a keyword search using the terms “accounting practices” and Enron. Placing quotation marks around two or more words causes the database to search for the terms as a phrase. It's always a good idea to begin searching a database using keywords. Your results may be a bit broad, but you can then focus your search. 

Here is one of the articles retrieved by this search. These are the Subject Terms assigned to this article. You can now use these Subject Terms to retrieve similar articles indexed by these particular terms. 

For example, two of the Subject Terms assigned to this article are accounting standards and Enron Corp. You can use these terms to focus your search and find articles that pertain to these particular areas. 

Type accounting standards in the first search box and then choose SU Subject Terms from the dropdown menu adjacent to the search box. Note that quotation marks are not necessary when using Subject Terms. Now type Enron Corp. in the second box and again choose SU Subject Terms from the dropdown menu. 

This search retrieves 84 articles. 

Each of these articles is indexed by the Subject Terms accounting standards and Enron Corp. Note that articles are indexed by other Subject Terms, as well. You can use these terms to search for additional articles that address these concepts. 

You may find it useful to compile a list of Subject Terms and try different combinations to target resources relevant to your research topic. Accounting Standards AND Management Science, for example, will yield results different from Accounting Methods AND Financial Disclosure.

Using Subject Terms to search databases can help you retrieve articles that specifically address your topic. Subject Terms can also provide you with ideas for additional searches that you can conduct. 

Remember: When you search using the Subject Terms field in Business Source Complete, you should only use the Subject Terms assigned in that particular database, as Subject Terms vary from database to database. 

To learn other research tips and techniques, please visit our Web site. A UMUC librarian is always available to help you through our Ask a Librarian service. Thank you for viewing this tutorial.

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