Skip to main content

NUR 210: Introduction to Nursing Practice

Keywords vs. Subject Terms


Keyword Searching

Subject Searching


Natural language (YOUR language)

Pre-defined "controlled" vocabulary (database language)

Familiarity/ease of use

Familiar & easy to use:  great way to start your research

Not always intuitive:  pre-defined terms are used to describe ideas, concepts, objects, activities, classes of people, academic subjects, etc.

How searches work

Searches for keywords anywhere in the record:  keywords are not necessarily connected in a meaningful way resulting in sources that may not be relevant

Searches for specific pre-defined terms only in the subject heading or descriptor field limiting your results to the most relevant sources


Very flexible:  can combine together in many ways

Less flexible:  need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term

Number of results

Often yields too many or too few results

Due to its precision it will typically give you far fewer results than a keyword search


May yield many irrelevant results

Results are usually very relevant to topic

Sample Search


What is the prevalence of high blood pressure among Latino teenagers?


ACTIVITY: Going beyond keyword searching