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Composition classes: ENG 101/102

This guide supports library instruction in Composition classes: ENG 101, and 102

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Search techniques

Keyword Searching vs. Subject Searching

Adapted from the Merrimack McQuade Library "Keyword Searching Versus Subject Searching" Handout. 

  Keyword Searching Subject Searching
What it is
  • Searches any field for matching documents
  • Uses natural language/ uncontrolled vocabulary
  • Searches assigned subject headings
  • Uses a controlled vocabulary 
When to use it
  • When you don't know the controlled vocabulary term(s)
  • When no subject heading exists
  • When you have several concepts to explore
  • When you know the correct subject heading
  • When keyword search results are too general/broad
  • Returns more results
  • Access to new terms that may not be reflected in subject headings
  • Helpful for discovering subject headings
  • Finds the "right" subject heading for your topic - eliminates the need for finding alternate keywords
  • Results are more orderly, can be narrowed or expanded
  • Too many results
  • Irrelevant results
  • May not reflect current usage, especially for new topics
  • Must be used correctly, or will not return the right results

Advanced Search and Boolean Operators

Create complex searches using the following rules: 

  • Use AND to connect two words and narrow your search. 
  • Use OR to connect words and broaden your search. 
  • Use NOT to exclude a word fro your search results. 
  • Place phrases "in quotes" to search for a complete phrase. 
  • Replace a character with * to search for variations. Example: Chem* finds chemistry, chemical, chemist; wom*n finds woman and women.


Library records are comprised of fields that contain specific pieces of information. Common fields include: 

  • author
  • title
  • journal name
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject heading

Limiting searches to a specific field can narrow results. For example, if you are searching for books written by Alexander Hamilton instead of about him, limit your search to the author field.

By default, your keyword search will look in all fields. 

Types of sources

Primary Literature = Written by the researcher who conducted the study.

Secondary Literature = Written by someone reviewing the research of someone else.

Scholarly Literature = Written by professors or experts, meant for academic consumption.

Popular Literature = Written for mass appeal, often simplified.

Using keywords to make complex searches

Concept Table Worksheet