Index Terms and Glossaries

Index terms describe the publication briefly

Using established index terms helps databases categorize publications with well-known, often repeated subjects. Index terms are particularly effective in database searches. Index terms should not be confused with keywords that can be any words describing the contents of a document. The index terms, on the other hand, are defined in the official index term lists and glossaries.

Index term

  • briefly summarises publication’s contents.
  • is always the same format
  • covers multiple alternative words that have the same meaning

Limiting to index terms / index term search specifies the search, often improving its relevancy and the pertinence of the topic, but also reduces the number of search results.

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Index terms are collected into glossaries

Index terms are defined in specific glossaries that are known as index term lists. Index term lists (often thesauri in English) are catalogues of the index terms that can be used. In practice, however, it is a little more complicated: databases often use one or multiple glossaries that best fit the needs of the database.

From index term lists you may find

  • correct search terms for an index term search
  • suggestions for search terms in general; related terms, as well as umbrella and subordinate concepts may also be useful

Different databases use different term lists. The same word will not work similarly in different databases. That is why it is important to check the term lists from the database’s description.

In addition, index term lists often include definitions of concepts as well as their relations: associated concepts (related), umbrella concepts (broader) and subordinate concepts (narrower).

The index terms can be a great benefit to the information seeker. Glossaries can be used to find the correct terms for index term search or browsed through to find tips for new search terms. Parallel, upper and sub-concepts can be good search terms as well.

Sometimes index term(s) describing the search topic can’t be found in the glossary of the database and some databases do not use glossaries at all. If so, you should do the search using natural language words.

Glossaries can be multidisciplinary or discipline-specific

Index terms are used in database searches

Index terms may be used similarly to normal search terms. There often is a specific search type for index terms, in which the search terms are only focused on a certain field. The Subject search in UEF Primo is one such search type. In international databases, index terms may also be called Subjects, Keywords, or Topics, for instance.

The index term search is only focused on the index terms that have been saved in a specific index term field:

  • In most databases, the index term search is accessed via the advanced search functions from which you would often choose “subject terms” or “index terms” for example.
  • Different databases use different index term lists. The same word will not work similarly between different databases. In index term search, (index) terms from the index term list used by database in question should be chosen as search terms.
  • If you limit your search to the index term field, you can not use any natural language words in the search, or at least you may not get any results with them.

The characteristics of index terms and natural language words

Unrestricted word search (i.e., searching without limiting the search to any of the search fields, simple search) searches through allof the publication’s information: the author’s name, publication’s title, abstract, index terms, publisher’s name, etc. The search may also be limited to only apply to titles or abstracts.

You may use any natural language words, phrases or index terms as your search terms. Index terms may also be used in simple search, but the opposite is not applicable. Free words can’t be used in keyword search.

If you do not change the target fields of the search manually, the database search is done based on the default selection of the search fields. Simple search is usually the default search type in databases; the index term search must be specifically selected. However, the default settings of the search functions vary across databases, so the target fields are worth to check beforehand.

The index term search works well when the topic is broad or difficult to define. A simple search works well when the topic of the search is detailed and well-outlined or when the field has established vocabulary and concepts.

In cases where the same search term is used both in word search and index term search, the simple search provides more results. However, the results of the index term search are more relevant.

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