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Subject Terms & Index Searches: Index Overview

What is an index?

A database index contains lists of authors, journals, subjects, and other identifying information about the material in the database.

All of the important information about an article gets put in an index. This makes it possible to search for a specific term in a specific location. For example, if you want to find an article that was written by Albert Bandura, you can run a search just for articles that Albert Bandura wrote.

Why should I use the index?

Indexed terms provide context to your search.

Having all of the author names in a single list lets you search just by author name. Then you can quickly limit your search to articles by an author, and avoid articles that just mention the person.

Indexed terms create precision searches.

Keyword searches can be so broad that you get results that aren't relevant. That's because a keyword search looks for your search terms in multiple places.

By searching for an indexed term, you are able to search just for the information that you want.

What gets indexed?

Almost all databases index the following:

  • Authors
  • Titles
  • Journal Titles
  • Abstracts
  • Subject Terms

Some databases with specialized content will also index other information. Examples include:

  • People Mentioned
  • Measurement Instrument
  • Research Method
  • Company Name
  • Geographic Location
  • Language

Search for an indexed term

In most databases, you can use the drop-down menu in the box to the right of the search box to access the database index.

For example, if you wanted to search the PsycINFO database for items written by Piaget, you would enter the author's name, Piaget, in the search box and then change the Select a Field (optional) drop-down menu to AU Author.


The index will generally only include one version of a name or title. If you don't know the exact way your indexed term will show up, you can learn how to use the database indexes on the Search the Index page.

For more information on search limiters:

Practice the skill

Completion time: 3 min

  1. Search the PsycINFO database using the name Bandura as a keyword anywhere.
  2. Search for articles authored by Bandura. 
  3. Search for articles about Bandura.

Video: Select a Field

(1 min 55 sec) Recorded Feb 2016


What strategies did you try? How many results did you get for each search?