Tutorial: Keyword Searching

What is Keyword Searching?

What is Keyword Searching?

Keyword searching is an effective method for finding information in any computerized database, whether it's the Library Catalogue, an online index, or an Internet search engine.  Once you learn the basics, you are capable of searching anywhere, with better results.

In a keyword search, you choose the most important words for your topic - words you would expect to find in every item of interest to you.  The system finds all the items with the words you request.

The most important aspect of keyword searching is choosing the best possible keywords.  You need to think before you search.


How is this different than a title, author, or subject browse?

  • In a title, author, or subject browse, you browse an alphabetical list, starting with the first word you type in. You need to know exactly what you're looking for and you go to that particular entry on a list. 
  • With a keyword search you look for one or more words, no matter how those words are related. 
  •  It's like saying: "Find me every item that contains this word."

Thus, a keyword search is a more broad and flexible search, useful when you just want to know what's out there.

Location of Terms

If you like, you can specify that the word must be in a particular field (e.g. the title, author, or subject), but it can be in any position (beginning, middle, or end) within that field.

Most often you're searching a description of an item, like the title, author, subject, or abstract. Be sure to use terms that might appear in these places.

  • For example, you can't search the full text of books in the Library Catalogue, because that information isn't entered into the Library Catalogue.   The Library Catalogue only describes and provides links to the books we have.

In some cases, you can choose to search the full text, depending on the database you're searching.

  • For example, if you're searching a database of e-journals, you may be able search within the full text of all articles included. 


In the tab above, see an example of the difference between browsing and keyword searching.

Search Comparison

Let's say you want to search the Library Catalogue for a specific book about Canadian history written by Pierre Berton, entitled Marching as to War : Canada's Turbulent Years, 1899-1953.

You could do any of the following searches:

1.  Title Browse: marching as to war

  • This would find the one exact book.
  • If you're sure of the title, this is the quickest way to get there.

2. Author Browse: berton

  • This would get a list of authors named Berton, and you could click on the entry for "Berton, Pierre" to get a list of all his books.
  • It gets you there, but it takes more clicks than the Title Browse.

3. Subject Browse: canadian history

  • This would find nothing, because there is no such subject heading.
  • A browse only looks for the associated spot on a list. If it's not on that list, it can't be found.
  • In the Library Catalogue tutorial we warned about subject searching; don't do it, unless you know the correct heading used.

4. Subject Browse: Canada -- History

  • This would find over 1,000 books about Canadian history - and you'd need to look through them all for the one you want.
  • You could waste a lot of time this way. Also, you'd need to know this was a correct subject heading.


Keyword search: berton and history and marching

  • This will find any books with all 3 words in the description.  There won't be very many.  (In fact, there's only the one.)
  • It finds "berton" in the author field, "history" in the subject heading, and "marching" in the title.

As you can see, this is even useful when you are not sure of the exact title, but you know it has the word "marching" in it.

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