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Keyword vs. Subject: Two Types of Searching: What is a Keyword?

Keyword Searching: Casting a Broad Net

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Keyword Searching

When you first begin researching a topic in a library database, such as Academic Search Complete, you'll probably want to start off with a keyword search.  This type of search casts a much broader net than other types of searches, so that you don't leave out search results that might be relevant to your research. 


But what exactly is a keyword?

  • Any word or phrase that describes a main concept in your topic can be considered a keyword.
  • You can enter a single keyword into a database search box, or you can enter combinations of keywords.  Combinations of keywords must be joined with connectors, such as: AND, OR, NOT.  (Please see the tab of this guide labeled "Search Connectors" for more information.)

Below, you will see a screenshot of a keyword search from Academic Search Complete.  The keyword used in the search box is healthcare

Notice that the dropdown menu to the right of the search box remains in the "Select a Field (optional)" position. This ensures that we are doing a broad, keyword search of Academic Search Complete.  


TIP: You can also use phrases as keywords.  For example, you could search for the phrase "health insurance."  When searching for phrases (i.e. two or three words side-by-side), put them in quotation marks.  However, you don't need to put single keywords in quotes. 

Where will the database try to find my keyword?

In an article database like Academic Search Complete, the database checks for your keywords in several places within each article record:

  • The Title
  • The Abstract
  • The Author
  • The Subject

If the database finds a match for your keyword in one of these fields, then the article is pulled into your list of search results.

What are "search terms?"

Your "search terms" are the words or phrases that you enter into the search box of a library database. 

Changing your search terms will give you a different list of search results. 

What are "search results?"

When you conduct a search using a research database, such as Academic Search Complete, you will retrieve a list of "hits" or "search results."

Your list of search results will consist of all the article records (or book records) that matched your search criteria. 

In many cases, the entire article is available.  Here's an example of a search result from Academic Search Complete.  Notice the PDF icon at the bottom of the search result. (If an entire article is available for viewing in Academic Search Complete, you will see either "PDF Full Text" or "HTML Full Text" at the bottom of the search result.)