How do I search by subject?


Books, articles, and other items are often assigned specific terms to describe what they are about; these terms area called subject terms, or subject headings. You can use subject terms to find information on a specific topic.

The advantage of subject searching is that you can conduct a focused search. All library catalogues and most article databases will let you search by subject. 

Subject searching relies on the use of specific language, sometimes referred to as "controlled vocabulary" or a "thesaurus." Each catalogue or database has its own pre-determined list of subject terms. 

Strategy for Searching by Subject

When you start your search, you likely won't know the specific subject terms that are assigned to your topic. A good strategy for subject searching is:

  1. Start with a keyword search using your own search terms.
  2. From the results list, look specifically at those results that seem the most relevant to your topic. 
  3. Look at the subjects listed in the item record; jot down the subject terms that are listed and use them later in subject searches (or click on a linked subject term to quickly search for that term).

Search by Subject in an Article Database

In article databases, look for "Subject Terms" or a "thesaurus," or check the Help menu to find out if there is a specific set of subject terms used (not all databases use subject terms).

Here is an example of subject terms for an article from a database on marketing food to children:

article record showing subject terms

Search by Subject in the Library Catalogue

All library catalogues use subject headings. RDP Library uses Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Here is an example of subject headings for a book on marketing food to children:

book record showing subject terms

Use a Subject Search to Find Information About an Author

A subject search can be especially useful for finding information about an author, rather than finding works by an author. 

e.g. books or articles about Oscar Wilde rather than works by Oscar Wilde


  • Last Updated Apr 19, 2022
  • Views 48
  • Answered By RDP Library

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