Skip to main content
Roosevelt University in Chicago, Schaumburg and Online - Logo

Begin Your Research

Keywords Or Subject Headings?

Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings (a.k.a. descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases.

It is not easy to guess which subject headings are used in a given database. For example, the phone book's Yellow Pages use subject headings. If you look for "Movie Theatres" you will find nothing, as they are listed under the subject heading "Theatres - Movies."

Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines.  Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.

Here are some key points about each type of search:


  • natural language words describing your topic - good to start with
  • pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database
  • more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways
  • less flexible to search by - need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • database looks for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together
  • database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear
  • may yield too many or too few results
  • if too many results - also uses subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject
  • may yield many irrelevant results
  • results usually very relevant to the topic


Definition: Rewriting in your own words.


  • Rewrite from memory (Don't look at the original when you are writing your paper)
  • Use quotation marks if you need to use a direct quote
  • A paraphrased thought still needs to be cited.

The following is an excerpt from Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice:

The Copyright Act of 1976 includes an exception to copyright holders’ exclusive rights, called, “fair use”, and lists four ways to tell whether or not your use of a copyrighted item without permission is legally acceptable (West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 1998). For ILI, the first factor, determination of educational as opposed to commercial use, is the most important part of the “test”. The other three test elements involve the type of copyrighted item, how much of the entire item you are using, and whether the copyright holder will lose income as a result of your use of his/her work (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2001, p. 212).

This would be plagiarism:

The Copyright Act of 1976 included an exception to copyright holders’ rights. It is called fair use. There are four ways to tell whether or not your use of a copyrighted item is legally acceptable. The first is determination of educational as opposed to commercial use. The other elements involve the type of copyrighted item, how much of it you are using, and whether the copyright holder will lose money as a result of using his/her work.

This would be paraphrasing with citation:

Fair use, an exception to The Copyright Act of 1976, was created to outline ways it is legally permissible to use copyrighted materials without permission. Four components were established to determine fair use. The first component is that the material is being used for an educational purpose and is not being used commercially. The second component considers information about the nature of the copyrighted material. the quantity of the material used, and whether or not the originator will lose money if you use his/her material (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2001, p. 212)

Background Information

Just the basics

Search below to find basic information about your topic-- definitions, history, etc. This is an excellent review before you look for scholarly articles.

Credo Logo

So What IS A Database?

You may have heard the term "database" before, but what does that mean? Watch this short video from NEIU Ronald Williams Library to have a better understanding of databases.

Websites Versus Library Databases As Information Sources

                                 Reasons for Using Library Databases



Library Databases

There are ads

There are no ads

Materials can be written by anyone

Materials are more likely to be written by experts

Information may not be verified

Information has been checked

There is no guarantee info has been updated

Sources are constantly updated

Can feature any kind of writing

Features only writing that has been published elsewhere

Material has various intended purposes (to entertain to persuade, to sell)

Purpose is to provide information

Access is free

Access is limited to library members, and those who pay significant subscription fees

Articles may cost money

Once accessed, full article text is free

It may or may not be clear who the author is

The author is clearly named

(Palmer, E., 2015, p. 22)                                            © 2015 by ASCD. Reproduced with permission

Palmer, E. (2015). Researching In A Digital World. Danvers, MA: ASCD.

Determinine Key Words

Research 101: Building Keywords

Watch this video from Northwestern University before you begin using databases and you'll be better prepared. For more research videos from NU click here.

Search Tools

                                                             Boolean Search Terms






Results (in blue) contain both terms Climate Change AND Cause 


Results (all of both circles) contain either Climate Change OR Cause


Results (in Turquoise) contain Climate Change NOT "Natural Cause"

***Note: Some web browsers have their own search terms.


                                              Search Shortcuts





(Using Quotation Marks)

Looks for complete phrase exactly as it is typed

“human cause for climate change"


Focuses on specific domain types

.com (commercial); .net (network); .org (organization); .gov (government); .edu (education)

site: .edu. “human cause* for climate change”


Finds similar sites



Finds sites that are linked to this site or have used this site as a reference



Focuses on specific domain types

.com (commercial); .net (network); .org (organization); .gov (government); .edu (education)

filetype: .pdf “human cause* for climate change”

(Palmer, 2015, pp. 28-29)


                                       Truncation and Wildcards







(Some databases might use: !, ?, or #)

Helps to expand your search to include different word endings or other possible combinations

Boy*= boys, boyfriend, boycott, etc.

C*t= cat, caught, consent, etc.


! or ?

Substitutes for a letter in a word.

M!n= man, men

Colo!r= color, colour

Evaluating Resources

How do you know if a resource is credible and reliable? Watch this video from Western University to pick up some ideas for evaluating websites and printed materials. For help with your research:

                                                  Evaluating Resources


  • When the resource was published, updated, or revised?
  • Is it out of date for the topic?


(Intended audience)

  • Is information related and pertinent to topic?
  • Is it understandable (Do you need to look up words in order to understand?)
  • Is the information useful or trivial?
  • How much information is presented
  • What is the ratio of information to ads on the website?


  • Who are the authors/editors?
  • Why should you believe them?
  • Are credentials presented?
  • Is work published by scholarly presses, popular presses, or self-published?
  • Does the website sponsor have expertise in the topic?
  • Check who is responsible for a website by searching:
    • Home
    • About Us
    • About
    • FAQ
    • Contact Us
    • Terms of Service
  • What is the website's domain?
    • .com (commercial)
    • .net (Network; available to everyone)
    • .org (available to everyone)
    • .gov (government)
    • .edu (restricted to educational institutions; high probability of reliability
    • .guru, .expert, .guide (stay away from these gimmicks)


  • Does the source match your understanding of the topic?
  • Is the information substantiated in other sources?
  • Is there a bibliography/list of work cited?
  • What types of sources are cited?
  • How many relevant sources are cited?


  • Is the purpose for the article stated?
  • Does author show a bias?
  • If so, how does the bias affect the information presented?
  • Is website linked to commercial sites?
  • Are there broken links (404 Page Not Found)?

(Palmer, 2015, pp. 28-34; University of Ontario, 2012)

Evaluating Resources [Video file]. (2012, January 13). In YouTube. Retrieved August 19, 2016, from  

Palmer, E. (2015). Researching In A Digital World. Danvers, MA: ASCD.

Find Us Online!



Contact Us For More Help


By Chat (Instant Message)

Click the words Type Here to Chat in the box below to instant message an RU librarian.

By E-Mail

Click Here to open our e-mail form; we will respond in 1 - 2 business days