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Searching the Scientific Literature

Scientific Subject headings

Choosing appropriate subject headings is an important step in developing a subject search strategy for searching the HSU Library Catalog and most other library catalogs. This brief guide gives specific tips for selecting Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in the biological and earth sciences.

It supplements the Library of Congress Subject Headings research guide that gives general tips on finding and selecting subject headings.

Biological Subject Headings

  1. Searching for material on specific organisms -- at the organism level subject headings typically use common nomenclature rather than scientific nomenclature, e.g. roosevelt elk rather than Cervus canadensis roosevelti. At the Family and Order levels a combination of common and scientific nomenclature is used. Check LCSH for correct nomenclature.
  2. Searching for material on the biology of organisms -- there are many hundreds of specific subject headings which treat the anatomical, physiological, behavioral, and evolutionary aspects of organisms. Search LCSH to find specific subjects. 

    In some cases subject headings are subdivided by major taxonomic divisions e.g., Nervous System - Fish. There are also standard subdivisions that can appear under any taxonomic subject heading. See Fishes for a listing of these subdivisions which apply to all animals, e.g., Fishes - Behavior or Ants - Behavior.

  3. Searching for material on a specific geographic area -- a subject-oriented book which emphasizes a particular geographic area will be listed under the subject followed by a geographic subdivision, e.g., a book on the birds of Humboldt County will be listed under Birds - California - Humboldt County.

    Books which contain a geographic treatment on a specific organism are listed under at least two subjects:

    1. the organism nomenclature, e.g., Peregrine Falcons
    2. a higher level taxonomic term with a geographic subheading, e.g., Birds - California


    This means you can find, e.g., under "Birds - California" all studies on specific birds in California.

  4. Searching for material on ecological concepts and techniques -- see the subject heading Ecology for a list of more specific ecological subject headings.

Earth Science Subject Headings

  1. Searching for material on rocks and minerals -- as with plants and animals there is a hierarchy of broad and specific subjects. Search LCSH to find subject headings at the most appropriate level of the hierarchy, e.g., rocks, igneous is broad. Under that subject heading are more specific subjects, e.g.,ophiolites.
  2. Searching for material on a specific geological time -- use the subject heading Geology - Stratigraphic followed by time subdivisions, e.g., Geology - Stratigraphic - Miocene.
  3. Searching for material on a specific geographical area -- many books published in geology discuss the geology of a specific geographical area. In most cases subject-oriented books which emphasize a specific geographical area are listed under a subject heading followed by a geographic subdivision , e.g., a book on the geology of Humboldt County will be listed under Geology - California - Humboldt County. Common geological terms which are subdivided geographically include Geology and Geomorphology.
  4. Searching for material on geological processes and techniques. This includes geologic subfields, features, and processes, e.g., Engineering Geology, Moraines, or Landslides. Search LCSH to find the many specific subjects for geologic subfields, features, and processes.