Skip to main content

COM220 Basic Reporting: Database Searching

Guide for COM220 Basic Reporting

What are subject headings?

Subject Headings (often called descriptors) are terms used in databases and catalogs to describe and index resources. The strength of subject headings is that they allow the use of a controlled vocabulary to organize information in a logical fashion. The goal is to make it easier for you to find the specific information you need.  A controlled vocabulary is a set of standard terms used to describe the contents of items found in a database. This includes the contents of books in the library and articles listed in an index.

In libraries, controlled vocabulary is usually referred to as subject headings. UNA Libraries, along with most academic libraries, uses the Library of Congress Subject Headings. This is a huge list of descriptive words and phrases which is published in four large, red volumes. You can find the print Library of Congress Subject Headings in the Reference area of Collier Library. Most of the records for books you will find in UNACAT (the Libraries online catalog) have one or more subject headings attached to them. Periodical indexes (databases) often refer to their controlled vocabulary terms as descriptors, but it all means the same thing.

A controlled vocabulary is an important way of drawing together, under a single word or phrase, all the material that is available on a particular topic. The purpose is to take the "guess work" out of searching. Knowing the appropriate subject heading can make your database searches more efficient and precise.

Remember to contact a librarian if you need assistance.

Database Instructions

Collier Library subcribes to over 150 databases. Currently enrolled students, faculty & staff have access to the databases from off-campus. Use your UNA Portal username and password to log-in.

Many of these databases are full-text, but not all. If an article is available in full-text format within the database there will be a "PDF" or "HTML" link in the record. If the full-text is not available within the database you are searching, we may be able to obtain it from another database or the library may have a print subcription. To determine if this is the case look for the "Full-text @ UNA" link within the record. Clicking this link with take you to a page with additional information. It may have a link to another database, to UNACAT, or, if full-text is not available, to an ILL request form. 

The databases listed on this guide were selected to assist you in finding information in a specific area. A complete listing of our databases can be found here.

 If you are encountering problems accessing the databases, please call 256-765-4469.

Recommended Databases

Developing a Search Strategy

Try this search strategy builder from the University of Arizona Library to help build a search that you can use when searching the UNA Libraries databases:

Search Strategy Builder

Boolean Operators

Using Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) when searching is one of the best ways to locate information in a library catalog, database, or search engine.  Boolean Operators show the relationship between words and/or phrases and allow you to narrow or expand your search.


Use the AND operator to string search terms together and narrow your results.  This works well with searches that are too general.
Example: marijuana AND medicinal use

Use the OR operator to broaden a search. If you are retrieving too few records, try adding synonyms or related terms to your search. OR is particularly useful when you are unsure of the words used to describe your topic.
Example: (marijuana OR cannabis OR cannabinoids)

Use the NOT operator to exclude terms.
Example: marijuana NOT substance abuse