Using a Thesaurus or Subject Index

Identify all the major concepts of your thesis or research topic. Then use the thesaurus or subject index to locate, explore and select descriptors for each concept of your topic.

Example:opens new window Communication Source:

  1. Click Thesaurus or Subject in the top menu bar.
  2. Key your term in the Browsing Thesaurus text box and select a browse function, such as Relevancy Ranked. Click Browse.
  3. Click a term to display details. Mark the checkbox in front of the terms(s). Click Add to move the term(s) into the search text box.
  4. Click Search or, browse for another descriptor to add to the search string.

Comm. Arts thesaurus

Example: opens new window International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance

Subjects - International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance
opens new windowGo there.

Keyword vs Subject/Thesaurus Searching

Whereas the common keyword search is based on an exact word match, a subject or thesaurus search locates records by assigned subject or descriptors.

Searching with controlled vocabulary in a subject index or thesaurus allows you to:

  • more precisely retrieve relevant information on your topic,
  • illustrates relationship between related terms and
  • helps you identify synonyms and broader and narrower terms.

Keyword and subject terms searching can be combined.
Rather than guessing what keywords to use, consider doing a subject or thesaurus (controlled vocabulary) search first. Review and evaluate your results. Then, add a keyword search to the query or use Search History to combine searches.

Search Strategies

Boolean Operator Strategy Examples of key terms for searching
AND Use to search different concepts together; produces fewer results culture AND education
OR Use to link similar terms; produces more results disabilities OR special needs
NOT Use to specify a term you do not want in the search results (children OR child) AND disabilities NOT therapy


Other Search Techniques Strategy Examples of key terms for searching
Truncation (*) Searches the ROOT of a word ended with *; searches alternative endings educat* AND culture
Searches: educate, educates, education AND culture, cultures, cultural
Use fewer concepts Increases number of results child* AND disabil*
Use more concepts Decreases number of results child* AND disabil* AND educat*
Phrase Search Use quotation marks to search an exact phrase "children with disabilities" AND educat* AND cultur*