Subject directories are not as common as they once were, but they are still important tools - and you will want to be able to recognize it when you come upon one.
Subject directories tell you what is available and where to find it. Also called subject trees or subject indexes and sometimes browse-able indices, they provide a hierarchical view of subject categories. A subject directory will organize Web sites into subjects according to their content. Browsing a subject directory is often the best way to grasp the breadth and depth of coverage available for a topic.
A subject directory will have a hierarchy of subject categories starting with 10 to 20 subjects at the top level. Within each main subject category, there will be several sub-categories. The business section, for example, might have sub-categories for companies, employment, marketing, management, and other business-related topics. Recreation would have a Travel as a sub-category, and within Travel, names of destinations with hotels, places, events.
People, often with library training and subject knowledge, review the site to determine what it is "about", and classify it into one or more subject areas. Today, most sites are submitted for consideration by webmasters responsible for the site. New categories are fitted into the overall tree structure as necessary.
How to Best Use a Subject Directory
There are two ways to use subject directories: you may browse or search.
Browse: follow the hierarchy of categories deeper and
deeper, until you find the match to your question. Browsing
often turns up serendipitous finds.
- Search: look for the key words in the name of the category and/or the name of the site.
Most subject directories have a search facility. By entering one or two search terms you can quickly locate the subject headings and site names matching those words. This will save you the time of working down all the branches of a subject tree. It may also suggest other terms that you might use to narrow your search.
In this example at the Yahoo Directory, a search for Harry Potter turns up categories that are only about Harry Potter (Books, Movies, more ...).
We get a sense of the kinds of sites there are about this fictional wizard and can narrow our search. Note also that Yahoo might insert Sponsor Results - these are advertisements for Potter-related products.
Yahoo uses Category: to mark Web matches from the Yahoo Directory and to direct you to a subject category to find more.