What is the difference between a keyword and a subject heading or descriptor?
When you do a keyword search in one of our databases (or on a web search engine like Google), you’re looking for results that contain a certain word. For example, a keyword search for leadership in a database like Business Source Elite retrieves articles that use the word “leadership” in the title or abstract (summary of the article).
Library search tools (unlike web search engines) also allow you to search by subject heading (aka, “descriptor”). Subject headings are pulled from a special thesaurus, and are applied to book and article records by librarians as a mechanism to pull together related items.
For example, a library might have some books about cats, some about kittens, and some about felines. If the library decides on a single term that can be applied to all of those books (say, for example, “Cats, domesticated”), you can do a search for that subject heading and find ALL of the books on cats—even if the books themselves don’t use the keyword “cats” anywhere.
The tricky part of subject searching is finding the official subject heading/descriptor that pulls together all of the related items. Most databases offer a thesaurus that helps you identify subject headings. If you would like help identifying subject headings for your topic, please don't hesitate to contact your subject librarian!