Old Dominion University Libraries

STARquest I: Library Services & Resources

7h. Keyword vs. Controlled Vocabulary

Should I always use keyword searching?

Keyword searching is easy to do, but sometimes it is best to use the thesaurus or subject guide provided with a database. In keyword searching, you are using your own natural language to create a search statement. Often, using the so-called controlled vocabulary of the database will give you better, more focused results.

For example, if you wanted to search the database called Sociological Abstracts for articles on the topic of "battered wives," you might enter your own keyword search simply as battered wives. If you checked the Sociological Abstracts thesaurus, however, you would see that it uses the term "battered women." In addition, the thesaurus tells you of other related terms you could use to find additional resources. Two appropriate ones are:

  • Family violence
  • Spouse abuse

Using a thesaurus or subject guide within a database can improve your search results.