Skip to Main Content
Chat loading...

COUN532_Ethics: Use Thesauri

Subject headings defined


The most specific word or phrase for a topic/subject, from a list of controlled vocabulary. You can use subject headings to find articles on a particular topic within a database by using the database’s thesaurus.

Works on the same subject are grouped together so you can find relevant resources 


  • Library catalogs to find books 
  • In databases to find articles, books, and other resources.

See the following boxes on applying the use of subject headings for finding books and articles.

What are Subject Headings?

Watch this short video from USU Libraries:

Subject headings vs. keywords

Keywords Subject Headings
  • Natural language - user generated
  • Controlled vocabulary used to describe a subject
  • Could appear only once - anywhere in abstract or title
  • Database applies subject headings to each resource, based on topic/subject of resource (adds specificity to your search)
  • No related terms are found, but homonyms might be (words spelled the same, but with different meanings)
  • Exist in a thesaurus, so helps you find related terms, weed out homonyms
  • Like using Ctrl+F in a document
  • All variations (spellings) are covered
  • Useful when: topic is very new, or looking for specific person/organization
  • Useful when: topic has established academic research on it, and you want highly relevant results


Search terms to subject headings

Searching by keyword means you'll find articles that have the exact letters of a word you typed, somewhere in the title or abstract. This means a search for PTSD will not include resources on trauma, nor on PTS. It also means that homonyms, like "lead" can be confused between the metal and the verb.

Searching by subject heading groups articles together by concepts/topics, not words. That means that subject headings can help you find works on "Individual Psychology" by starting with the subject heading "Adler, Alfred".