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TESOL & Linguistics Resources: Searching and Subject Terms

Searching and Search Terms


As you begin searching, take a moment to think about what words and phrases you will want to use in your searching.

My usual approach is to start very simply.

Take a look at your topic. Pick out the main words, the keywords, and use these to begin searching.

You might think of different ways to refer to the same topic (lawyer/attorney) (capital punishment/death penalty) (dog/canine). Think about alternative words or synonyms.

As you start searching, keep an open mind for additional words and phrases and concepts that you might find along the way. Often when you actually start looking at your results, you’ll notice other related terms that could be options for further searching (an example would be subject terms - for more on this, see the box on the right).

But at the beginning, keep it simple.

Once you start seeing search results, then you can refine and adjust as needed. You can add additional terms, you can narrow by date, you can choose to see only certain types of sources, e.g. academic journals. The options vary depending on where you’re searching, but in general there are ways that you can increase or decrease your results, depending on what your needs are.

Librarians can help with this. Feel free to ask.

Using Subject Terms When Searching

What are subject terms?

Subject terms are standardized words and phrases that identify the key elements of the book or article – they identify the core of what the book or article is about.

How can they be useful?

A good way to use subject terms (sometimes called subjects or subject headings) is to use them to refine or focus your searching, or to find other materials on a specific topic.

How should you use them?

I usually recommend that you begin with a keyword search. Begin your search with some of the key or primary terms in your research topic. Start browsing your search results. When you find a book or an article that is close to what you're looking for, look at the subject terms that are being used to describe the item. You can use these to find other items on the same topic - often the subject terms are clickable - you can click on them to find other items on that topic.

Once you’ve identified specific subject terms that relate to your topic, you can do new searches with those topics. In the Bluffton Library Catalog, for example, click on the Subject tab, then enter the subject term into the top search box labeled Library of Congress Subject Heading.

Here are some examples of subject terms that might be useful:

  • English language--study and teaching 
  • English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers
  • English language--Study and teaching--Spanish speakers (or insert another language if desired)
  • English language--Textbooks for foreign speakers
  • Bilingualism
  • Bilingualism in children
  • Education bilingual
  • Multicultural education
  • Language acquisition
  • Language and culture
  • Language and languages
  • Language and languages--Study and teaching
  • Second language acquisition
  • Linguistics
  • Comparative linguistics
  • Historical linguistics