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Engineering and Science

Controlled Vocabulary

Takes the Guess Work out of Searching
A controlled vocabulary makes a database easier to search. Since we have many different ways of describing concepts, drawing all of these terms together under a single word or phrase in a database makes searching the database more efficient as it eliminates guess work. However, arriving at this efficiency requires consistency on the part of the individual indexing the database and the use of pre-determined terms.

controlled vocabulary is a list standardized terms used by Librarians to describe the content of a source material. Also known as subject headingssubject termsthesaurus terms, or descriptors – they are the official indexing terms used in a Library by catalogers and database indexers to describe each concept so that all items on the same topic have the same subject heading or descriptor.

The benefit of subject headings in our library databases is that they allow you to easily identify more sources on similar topics, just by entering the terms.

Do all databases use controlled vocabularies?

While all academic libraries use subject headings in their cataloging (the controlled vocabulary known as the Library of Congress Subject Headings), not all individual databases do. Those that do typically have a subject field listed in the advanced search options.  They may also link to their vocabulary list (look for a link to "subjects" or "thesaurus" within the database).

Why use a Controlled Vocabulary?

Conducting a search in a database that uses controlled vocabulary or indexing terms is efficient and precise. The biggest advantage to controlled vocabulary is that once you do find the correct term, most of the information you need is grouped together in one place, saving you the time of having to search under all of the other synonyms for that term.

Most academic database search algorithms are created by librarians and are set up using controlled vocabularies. This is because materials are cataloged and indexed by librarians and they follow a standard so materials can be searched for efficiently.

From University of New Mexico Grant Library's webpage "Controlled Vocabularies"

Try Your Keywords Here

Below you'll find several databases with background information. These are great places to start your initial or early keyword search. (Sometimes known as 'scoping'.)

General Engineering Databases

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