Answered By: Jennifer Harris
Last Updated: May 06, 2019     Views: 15463

What is Subject Searching?

Within a database or The Online Library Catalog, subject searching allows you to search by categories, which are found in the subject field of an item record. Subject terms are pre-defined and used for all items within a database or source that relate to that term.

For example, let's say you found the following article in a database:

Wilson, F. A., & Stimpson, J. P. (2010). Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008. American Journal Of Public Health, 100(11), 2213-2219. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.187179

The subject terms associated with this article might include: distracted driving, cell phones & traffic accidents, traffic fatalities, etc. By searching for the subject terms supplied by the database alongside this article, you may be able to find similar articles on this topic.

Note: If you find an article you find particularly useful, look at the subject terms and try using the same in your search.  Some databases also allow for "author-supplied keywords."

Screenshot of subject and author-supplied keywords

Most Useful For

  • Once you find a useful resource on your topic, subject searching allows you to find similar resources
  • Allows you to broadly search for sources on a topic


  • Can be difficult to use if the subject associated with a topic isn't obvious
  • Results will vary from one database to another

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