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Research Skills Tutorial

This is a self-paced, non-credit course that covers research skills, critical thinking, media and internet literacy, and understanding the complexities of the modern information environment (including libraries.)

Advanced Searching with Descriptors

Controlled Vocabularies

Descriptors are terms used by each database to "officially" label a particular concept. This is referred to as a controlled vocabulary. Descriptors are also known as subject terms.

Descriptors used by a particular database can be found in that database's Thesaurus or Subject Terms Lookup.

The video below explains when you might want to use descriptors in your advanced searches.

How To Find A Database's Thesaurus (Subject Terms Lookup)


In some databases, like EBSCOhost, the link to the Thesaurus is found in a menu bar at the very top of the page. In this case, it is called Subject Terms.

Screenshot of the EBSCOhost main (basic search) page. Up at the top of the page is a menu bar with items: New Search, Publications, Subject Terms (this is the thesaurus link!), Cited References, and More. Below that is the EBSCOhost logo and the search box.


In other databases, like ProQuest, the link to the Thesaurus is found in the Advanced Search screen.

Screenshot of the ProQuest Advanced Search screen. There are three search boxes stacked on top of each other. To the right of each of the search boxes is a pull-down menu for field searching. Right above that is a menu of links: Thesaurus (that's the one you want), Field Codes, and Search tips.

Searching Descriptors (Subject Terms)

When you want to search by descriptor or subject term, go to the database's Advanced Search.

Enter your descriptor/subject term in the search box, and use the pull-down menu next to it to select SU Subject Terms (or in some databases, DE Descriptor).

Screenshot of EBSCOhost Academic Search Complete's Advanced Search screen. We have entered wage decreases into the search box and selected SU Subject Terms in the pull-down menu next to it.

Accessibility Note

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