Keyword searches look for your search terms anywhere in the record -- e.g., in the title, abstract, subject heading, or other notes. Keyword searches may be less precise or relevant than searches using subject terms and often return a larger, but less useful, set of results.
Subject searches, on the other hand, only return results in which the search term appears in the subject field. The subject field contains “Subject Headings” or “Descriptors” - labels pulled from a special list (“thesaurus”) that are used as a way to connect related items and retrieve them all with one search. The tricky part of subject searching is finding the official subject heading/descriptor words that when searched will pull together all of the related items. Most databases offer a thesaurus that helps you identify subject headings.
Here's a summary of the differences between searching with subject headings and searching with keywords.
|Use a keyword search when||Use a subject search when|