Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
  • Library AND Information Service

Find, access and use information effectively: a step-by-step guide: Controlled Vocabularly

Find, access and use information effectively: a step-by-step guide

Controlled vocabularly

Controlled Vocabularly versus Keywords

Controlled Vocabularly Keywords
Pre-defined, higher order terminology Natural (conversational language)
Only searches the subject or descriptor field in a database record

Searches all fields in a database record including title, abstract, text, etc.

Results usually relevant to your topic Results may or may not be relevant to your topic
Narrows your search providing fewer results Broadens your search providing more results
Less flexible - searches only available, pre-defined subject headings

Flexible - searches newer or distinctive terms and
acronyms with no defined subject heading 

Examples:
Canines
Skin Neoplasms
Hypertension
Insomnia

Examples:
Dogs
Skin Cancer
High Blood Pressure
Sleeplessness

What is Controlled vocabularly

Controlled vocabulary is a standardized, pre-defined set of terms used by a database to describe and categorize articles or sources of information based on content. Controlled vocabulary can also be referred to as Subjects, Subject Headings, Subject Terms, Descriptors, Thesaurus, or Index terms. The table on this page outlines the difference between using 'Controlled Vocabulary' and 'Keywords'.

Each database handles controlled vocabulary differently including the terminology.The following video explains the meaning and functionality of controlled vocabulary.

Permission to use content

The content of the section on controlled vocabularly were copied, with permission, of Marjorie Leta of the Mesa Community College