Searching Solutions: Additional Search Options

Understanding how searching changes from search engine to database.

Beyond Boolean

As more researches began using the databases, new searching terms developed. Verify which terms are (and are not!) used by your favorite databases before using them.
This page covers:  Phrase searching, Field codes, Proximity indicators, Stop words, Truncation and Wildcards, and additional operations

Phrase Searching

Phase Searching: Use quotations marks to indicate a phrase. When applied it means that exact phrase must appear somewhere in the database.

  • Example: “achievement goal theory”


  • Always use phrase searching with non-indexed databases and search engines.
  • Use sparingly in indexed databases (subject/indexed/thesaurus terms are preferred). In some databases (e.g. PubMed), phrase searching may turn off the automatic mapping options and you will only retrieve articles/resources with that phrase - even if other items are on that same topic (but missing the phrase).
  • Be aware some databases (e.g. PubMed) will ignore the quoted phrase if it contains a "stop word" for that database  (e.g. of, the, in, etc.)

Field Codes

All databases use some form of Field Codes. These codes allow you to search individual parts of the citation and to limit your search to specific terms. Look under the Advanced Search or for drop-down menus to find these search terms. 

  • Field codes may include: Title, Author, Abstract, Keyword, Subject, Date, ISSN, Acquisition number, etc.
  • Many databases use two letter codes when searching the fields (e.g., TI, AU, AB, KW, SU, etc.); look at how your search is formatted to see those codes
  • Navigation menus (e.g. on the left or right side of the search results page) use field codes to limit the searches
  • Not all field codes used by a database may be used in a search strategy

Proximity Indicators

Proximity Indicators are used by some databases to allow searches to find two concepts that are close together or next to each other.

  • ADJ (adjacent to): Two concepts are next to each other in any order
    • Example: "Alfred ADJ Einstein" retrieves "Alfred Einstein" and "Einstein, Alfred"
  • FBY (followed by): The first concept must be followed by the second; FBY.x means that the two concepts must be exactly x words apart (Uncommon; see PRE)
    • Example: "John FBY Wayne" retrieves John Wayne
    • Example: "happy FBY.2 love" retrieves "happy in love"
  • NEAR: The two concepts are within a specified distance to each other (often 5-15 words), either before or after; Some databases offer or require the number (NEAR/x, N/x)
    • Example: "goal N/4 savings" retrieves "Goal: energy and cost savings", "savings and emission reduction goals", "savings goals", "the goal of savings", etc.
    • Note: Some databases apply a default number when NEAR is used without a number
  • PRE (precedes): Similar to FBY; PRE/x indicates a distance of x or less between the words.
    • Example: "John PRE Wayne" retrieves John Wayne
    • Example: "happy PRE/2 love" retrieves "happy love", "happy, sad, love", etc.
  • W/x (within): See NEAR, works as N/x
  • ~x: See NEAR, works as N/x

Stop Words

Stop words (or stopwords) are terms that are ignored by the search strategy. The search engine literally stops looking at the word and goes onto the next word or phrase.

Be aware some databases (e.g. PubMed) will ignore a quoted phrase if it contains a "stop word" for that database  (e.g. of, the, in, etc.).

Truncation and Wildcards

Many databases offer options to search for using only part of the word, called Truncation. The first two options (using the wildcards * and ?) are the most common.

  • Asterisk (*): Used to replace one or more characters, generally at the end of the word; Some databases permit the asterisk in the middle of a word
    • Example: cardio* retrieves: cardio, cardioendoscopes, cardiomyopathy, cardiovascular, etc.
    • Example: o*er retrieves: over, offer, October, etc.
  • Question mark (?): Used to replace a single character, either inside or at the end of the word; In most databases, this symbol cannot be used at the beginning of a word
    • Example: t?re retrieves: tire, tore, tyre, etc.
    • Example: ad??? retrieves: added, adopt, adult, etc.
  • Tilde (~): Used to match similar terms
    • "lead~" retrieves "tead", "veade", "wead", etc.

Note: Wildcard options generally may not be used inside a phrase search (e.g. "child* therapy" is not an acceptable search, but child* AND therapy is).

Additional Operations

EXACT:  Used to focus a search on a specific phrase or term, generally in a specific field; also .e

  • Example: Subject: "EXACT higher education" will not retrieve subjects with: “higher education administration”, “women in higher education”, etc.

Hyphen (-): Used to indicate a range; generally only used when searching numerical fields (e.g. publication dates).

  • Example: 2012-2016

LNK: Link: Used to link two terms together

  • Example: MESH(descriptor LNK qualifier) - which translates to
    MESH("aspirin" LNK "adverse effects")
    MESH("aspirin -- adverse effects")

SAME: The keywords must be in the same field (e.g. title, address, etc.)