Skip to Main Content

ENGL 198H: Honors Seminar (Douglass, Spring 2024): Subject Headings & Keywords

Subject Headings

Subject headings are specific, predefined terms that are assigned to printed material. Because they use a "controlled vocabulary,"  subject headings typically do not include multi-disciplinary or complex topics.

Many items, especially books, were catalogued using outdated or biased terminology, much of which is now considered politically correct or downright offensive. Librarians are working to change this!

It's most useful to start with a keyword search in the UC Library Search, using a combination of terms that describe your topic. Once you have located a relevant item, you can look at the Subjects in the record and follow those links to find related books.

Below are examples of subject headings 

Narration (Rhetoric) -- Psychological aspects

Social interaction in literature

Authors, English -- 19th century -- Biography

Sermons, American -- African American authors -- History and criticism

Science fiction -- Religious aspects -- Christianity


Unlike Subject Headings which use a precise, controlled vocabulary, Keywords are your own search terms that best express the essence of your topic. 

Advantages to using keywords:

  • allows you to combine different concepts. Each concept is separated by AND (food AND class AND british empire). 
  • you can add synonyms and like terms to increase your search results (industry OR market OR trade OR commerce)
  • you will retrieve items that may be on topic but that were not given a relevant subject heading
  • you can use the asterisk* symbol to include alternate endings to your root word:  colonial* will retrieve all records with the word colonial, colonial, colonialism, colonialist, and so forth.

Disadvantages of using keywords:

  • your results may include items that are unrelated or completely off topic
  • you will be searching multiple fields within the catalog record, not just the Subject Headings. This means you will get all results where your keyword appears in the Publisher, Author, Language, or other field in the record


Login to LibApps