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Research - Basic Methods: Subject

Learn how to execute basic search techniques in the Maly Library catalog.

What is Subject Searching?

Subject searching allows you to search for items that have been categorized under different subjects. These categorizations are searchable in the catalog using subject headings. Subject headings are a standardized search term that group together similar materials so that you can easily find items relevant to your search.

Try It Out!

Give this search method a try.

Maly Library Catalog:  

Structure of a Subject Heading

Subject headings are constructed like you would construct an outline, starting with general topics and building towards specific topics.

An outline might look like this:


The subject heading "equivalent" of this outline would be Bible. Matthew -- Commentaries.

Once you know how a certain topic is structured, you can also extrapolate other topics.

People as subjects are listed last name, first name with their birth/death dates. do you know what the subject heading is for your topic?

Determining a Subject Heading for your Search

Method One

  • Do a keyword search on your topic
  • Choose an item that looks appropriate for your research

  • See which subject headings have been assigned to that item, and use subjects you like to continue searching


Method Two

  • At the Maly Library catalog home page, click on the "Subject" tab
  • Search using terms related to your subject (for example, "Matthew")
  • If your search term falls into many differing subjects, the catalog should present you with subjects of potential interest that you can then explore. The search term "Matthew" could fall under several subjects, so the catalog presents you with several options.

  • After selecting your subject, you can browse additional related subjects that are listed in alphabetical order. The number in the right hand column denotes how many library items have that subject.

  • If your search term is not used in the subject heading vocabulary, but has a defined synonym, the catalog will direct you to use the synonym.

Keyword Searches vs. Subject Searches

Keyword and Subject searching are fundamentally different, in that...

In Keyword Searching, you can use any words in any order, and your results will include these words somewhere in the record (the title, table of contents, summary, etc.)

In Subject Searching, you must use the standardized search terms determined by the library catalog, and the catalog only searches the subject field of each record.

For example:

  • If you do a keyword search for "Matthew commentary" your results may include books that focus solely on Matthew or that cover all the Gospels or the entire New Testament. You will have to filter out irrelevant sources.
  • If you do a subject search for "Bible. Matthew -- Commentaries" (the subject heading for this topic) all of your results will have been previously determined to have "commentary on Matthew" as a central concept, so the amount of irrelevant data should decrease dramatically.

If you try this out in the catalog, you will see that the subject search yields less results, as it has already eliminated irrelevant items that would have come up in a keyword search.

Opal Help Page

Visit the Opal Help page for more information on searching, requesting Opal items, and using your account.