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Advanced Search Tips: Subject Headings

Tips for narrowing your searches in academic databases and search engines.

Subject Headings

Libraries used 'controlled vocabulary' or standardized terms to classify books and articles.  In general, college libraries use the Library of Congress (LC) classification system, which includes a standard set of subject terms for items. When you look at a book, the subject headings are hyperlinked so that you can find other books in your subject.  

Library of Congress Subject Headings

The Library of Congress classification system includes 100,000+ subject headings. They range from very general (ex. Art) to very specific (ex. Art -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century). Subject headings may contain subdivisions, separated by a double hyphen (--) to narrows down to specific parameters. 

You do not need to know the correct subject heading to use them effectively. Simply find a relevant resource, scan the subject headings, and click on the subject heading(s) that are relevant to your search. See the example on the right. 

Using Subject Headings to Find What You Need

In a hypothetical research paper, I'm looking for books about how art & literature were used to advance American objectives in the Cold War. When I scroll down this record, I see 'Library of Congress Subject Headings' (see screenshot). Some are general, but others are specific. 

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One of the subject headings matches what I'm looking for: Art Political aspects United States History 20th century.  The subject headings are hyperlinked so I can search all books, articles, videos, and more that are classified under the same heading.