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Lund University


Biology library guide to information searches

Controlled vocabulary: thesaurus

Thesaurus - the database's own subject system

NB! This is for advanced users. Most of the time you will do fine without much knowledge about the relevant thesaurus.

Almost all databases have their own (often hierarchical) system of subject terms to classify publications = thesaurus. These are added to the article by editors, and are independent of the actual language used by the author in the text. This means that if you search for a subject term that is present in the thesaurus, you will find publications about this subject regardless of what terms the authors have used.

What you can use it for

Using the database's thesaurus can also be useful if you are interested in sorting out (or removing) publications within a certain subject. There are several ways you can make use of a thesaurus, it depends on the database. For example you can:

  1. Click on the subject term within a specific record to get all other records that are indexed with the same subject term
  2. Find the thesaurus and click on the subject term in the list to get all records indexed with this term
  3. Make use of a filter (usually on the left hand side) to sort the result list according to subject term.

Examples of database thesauruses

To properly use controlled vocabulary, you need to find out what system/thesaurus your favorite database is using. Here follows a few examples:

BIOSIS Previews (A biological database within Web of Science)
Concept Codes: Life Science subject terms (click the link to read more)
Taxonomic Data: Taxonomic subject terms (click the link to read more)
MEDLINE (the database in PubMed)
MeSH-terms: Medical subject headings (click the link to read more)
LUBsearch (EBSCOhost)
Subject Terms: General subject headings (click the link to read more)