4.9 Field Searching in Indexes

As discussed earlier in this chapter and in others, Advanced Search features typically allow you to search for your terms in specific areas of the item record (e.g., author, date, type, format).

Here’s something to keep in mind when field searching in indexes: many indexes call their subject headings by different names such as subjects, categories, subject terms or descriptors. No matter what they are called, you can recognize subject descriptors by what they contain: descriptive names for concepts that relate to the record. These are all forms of controlled vocabulary, which we’ve learned about in previous chapters.

It’s important to remember that each index may use different subject headings to refer to similar topics. For example, in a psychology index, there may be more, highly-specific subject headings related to psychology than there would be in an engineering index. For this reason, when you get started with a new index, you’ll probably need to do some initial exploration to discover the specific controlled vocabulary in that index that best defines your topic.

You should begin your index search using simple keywords rather than using natural language. You could use truncation, nesting and Boolean search strategies (discussed in Chapter 3) as well. When you retrieve records that are relevant to your topic, look for the descriptors or subject terms for that record. Usually, you’ll be able to click on those subject terms to easily redirect your search, and retrieve everything in the index on that topic. Combining keyword and subject searching in this way is an effective and efficient search technique.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Indexes


  • The best finding tool for searching scholarly articles
  • Provide many robust search features that give you control over your searches
  • List what subjects and dates are covered on the “about” page
  • List which journals and conference publications may be found within
  • Subject-specific indexes cover a comprehensive set of authoritative journal articles and other materials focused on a subject area
  • Connect directly to full-text articles using the Get it@ISU link


  • Not good tools for background information on a subject
  • Many cannot easily process natural language searches
  • Interfaces may be clunky or not compatible with mobile devices
  • May not include the full text of articles

When the full text isn’t available within the index, Get it@ISU can help you find it. Let’s take a quick look at how Get it@ISU works.


LIB 160: Information Literacy Copyright © 2019 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book