Site Map | Home | APSU | OneStop


Searching for Subjects


The most efficient method of searching for a subject uses controlled vocabulary.

What is controlled vocabulary?

Words and phrases that describe the topics covered by books, articles and/or web sites in a database.  The words and phrases are assigned by a person who has read the information.

Why should I use controlled vocabulary when searching a database?

More precise results (fewer citations, but citations are more likely to be relevant to your topic). 

Eliminates searching every synonym for a word, because all synonyms are included in the controlled vocabulary term(s).


Typing "cats" in the search box retrieves items:

  • in which the word "cats" appears

  • where the main topic is cats

  • marginally about cats

  • that use the word "cats" but are not about felines

Searching "cats" using controlled vocabulary retrieves more relevant information because it finds items:

  • with cats as their main topic

  • in which cats are listed as "felidae" or "housecats"

and EXCLUDES items:

  • only marginally about cats

  • which use the word "cats" in another context such as "raining cats and dogs" or the musical "Cats"

How do I use controlled vocabulary?

Controlled vocabulary words and phrases can have many different names in databases. In InfoTrac, the words and phrases that make up the controlled vocabulary can be searched using the Subject Guide.

In other databases look in the Thesaurus or the Index for controlled vocabulary terms. The words and phrases may be called subject headings, subject terms, descriptors, index terms, or permuted terms.

To search using controlled vocabulary:

  • Locate the list of controlled vocabulary terms for your database

  • Find the word or phrase that best describes your topic

  • Search that word or phrase exactly as written

Controlled vocabulary for specific databases:

America: History & Life

  • Subject terms

  • May be searched in the Subject Terms Browse (click the magnifying glass).

  • Subject Index includes words in the document title, abstract, and descriptors

CINAHL (Nursing and Allied Health)

  • Descriptors

  • Access through CINAHL Thesaurus or Index. Thesaurus lists all occurrences of a word, Index provides an alphabetical list (click the "Thesaurus" or "Index" button).

  • Uses core list of disease, drug, and anatomical/physiological headings from the National Library of Medicine's Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)    

  • Also uses headings unique to CINAHL

ERIC (Education)

  • Descriptors

  • Access through Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors (click the "Thesaurus" button)

  • Term Information shows broader, narrower, and related terms

Austin (Woodward Library's books and audiovisuals)

  • Subject Headings

  • Access through Library of Congress Subject Headings red books near InfoStations on Level 2

  • Includes broader, narrower, and related terms

  • Using the Subject search in Austin will retrieve citations to books using the Subject Headings

MLA Bibliography (Languages and Literature)

  • Descriptors

  • Access through MLA International Bibliography Thesaurus (click the "Thesaurus" button)

  • Does not include titles of literary works or names of article authors

  • Term Information shows broader, narrower, and related terms

PsycINFO (Psychology)

  • Descriptors

  • Access through Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms (click the "Thesaurus" button)

  • Term Information shows broader, narrower, and related terms


APSU - Austin G. Woodward Library - P.O. Box 4595 - Clarksville, TN 37044 | (931) 221-7346 or 1-800-250-1890 | Copyright 2006 APSU 
Copyright Policy
Last Updated: 24-Jun-2013 | Questions or comments to