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Keywords and Subject Headings - Two Ways of Searching

An analysis of the differences between two ways of searching.
by

William Badke

on 7 August 2014

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Transcript of Keywords and Subject Headings - Two Ways of Searching

Keywords and Subject Headings - 2 ways of Searching
Google makes it possible to find almost anything.

All you have to do is throw words in a
box and out comes a bunch of results
Here's a search on Abraham
Lincoln. Results look good.
But what's this? One of the results
is for that crazy movie,
Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter.

How did that get here???
This happened because keyword searching
in Google is not smart.

Google finds words. It can't find
context.
What's context?

It's all the background detail that gives words a setting in real life.

For example, one context of Abraham Lincoln
for the man who lived 1809-1865 and was
president of the United States.

A totally different context is the Abraham Lincoln of the movies where he is in the context (setting) of a vampire hunter.

Google can only find the words "Abraham Lincoln." It displays everything with those words.

It can't figure out context.
This is why you so often get strange
results when you do searches. Google
can only find words. It can't figure out
the context or setting those words fit into.
Don't you just wish you could tell
Google, "I only want Lincoln the
president, not some foolish movie."

You could try adding keywords, but you'd still get some results that don't work.
So keyword searching is great for quick results, but you usually get results you don't want.
One more problem - You have to think of
all the right keywords to use.

Is it
global warming
or
climate change
or
greenhouse gasses
?

What if you miss searching on a keyword
you didn't think of? Will you fail to find
results that you really need?

Probably.
Wouldn't it be great if you could put words into a search that could help you find everything on the topic and that didn't have vampire hunter movies when all you wanted was the real Abraham Lincoln?
Google can't do that, but library catalogs and many academic databases can.
Let's explore a different way of searching - the subject heading.
Outside of the Internet, books and journal articles are found through specific databases, usually operated through libraries.

In this setting, there is an opportunity to add some really helpful options to search tools.
It starts with a descriptive record that might look like this:
Let's break this down a bit:
With a subject heading, I don't need to worry that I haven't thought of the right words or that I will get results that aren't relevant.
A
subject heading
search on Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 brought up the following results. Only one of them would have been found through a keyword search on Abraham Lincoln
Keywords work best when you have clear terminology to use.
Subject headings only work in databases that have them - library catalogs and some journal databases.
Use subject headings when:
there are several ways you could describe your topic
you are getting a lot of results that are not relevant
you want to see most or even everything in the database on the topic.
How do you search with subject headings?

Find a subjects option next to the search box

Do a keyword search, open up the full descriptive record for one of the results, and click on a subject link
Keywords - Great for quick searching; required for Net searching. Can miss things and usually get some irrelevant results.
Subject heading searching - Great for finding more on the topic when keywords miss things. Only available in some databases.
This will give you links to authorized subject headings to find other books on the subject.
Alternatively, do a keyword search and find a book on topic:
Recently Google has developed categories to the right of common topics. Now an "Abraham Lincoln search will get you some topic information. But this still doesn't get rid of non-relevant results.
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