Searching the Web for Sources: Controlled Vocabulary

It is important that you understand the concept of ‘controlled vocabulary’.  Although keyword searching is appropriate online, you have to engage in an additional strategy when searching Peer-Reviewed databases, such as ​EBSCO​Provider of research databases, e-journals, magazine subscriptions, ebooks and discovery services or ​ProQuest​Tool to find scholarly journals, books, video, audio, newspapers, and more..  This involves examining the database’s thesaurus for controlled vocabulary.

Controlled vocabulary refers to the specific subject terms that a database recognizes as a standard for that subject when many different terms may exist simultaneously.  A simple example of controlled vocabulary is to standardize important names.  Do you search for “Mozart”, “Wolfgang Mozart”, “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart”, or “Mozart, Wolfgang A.”?  A controlled vocabulary will pick one way of structuring the information across all resources so you are guaranteed better quality results.

Here is a different example.  Suppose you were to search for the term “Crystal Meth”.  If you were to search within the Academic Search Complete’s subject thesaurus, you would find that the subject term “ICE (Drug)” is the term used by the database as the standard for “Crystal Meth”.  You would see that “Methamphetamine” is considered the BROADER TERM whereas “ICE (DRUG)” is the narrower term, and is USED FOR “Crystal Meth (Drug)”.  If your keyword search of “Crystal Meth” was retrieving too many results, or not specific enough, you could provide more specific criteria, such as using the specific subject term ““ICE (Drug)” to find accurate, quality results.  This requires you to be patient, and experiment with terminology.

To access the Thesaurus in ​EBSCO​Provider of research databases, e-journals, magazine subscriptions, ebooks and discovery services databases, go to the search screen, then look at the upper left corner for the word “Subject”, then you can review controlled vocabulary.  You simply search for your ‘keyword’, and then review what terminology is controlled for your subject.

« Back to Student SuccessLast updated November 22, 2019
Glossary
EBSCO
Provider of research databases, e-journals, magazine subscriptions, ebooks and discovery services
ProQuest
Tool to find scholarly journals, books, video, audio, newspapers, and more.