Pro Tips to Become an Expert Searcher

Search by Database Fields

Use database fields to search with specific parts of a citation. Literature databases index citations provided by publishers. Some databases only index journal articles (such as PubMed) while other databases index additional items such as conference proceedings, dissertations, and book chapters.

Database publishers assign each part of a citation to a different field in the database. For example, all authors listed for an articles are assigned to the “Author” field, all words in an abstract are assigned to the “Abstract” field, etc. Many databases also add controlled vocabulary terms to describe the major concepts presented in an article which are then tagged as such. Any search terms you use are only searched across the citation information in a database, not the full text of the article.

Searching using specific fields of a citation in literature databases increases the precision of your search by dictating which part of the citation a specific keyword or phrase must appear. This is useful if you want to find articles on a specific topic that were written by a particular author or originated from a specific institution or are published in a specific journal.

A way to search for terms in a specific field of a citation is to add a “Field Tag” to your search terms. Most databases allow you to qualify search terms using a code called a “Field Tag” or a “Field Descriptor” to force the database to only search for that term in a specific field.

Use Database Filters

Many databases allow you to apply filters to limit to your search. For example, you can apply a language filter to limit your search results to articles written in a specific language. You should be extremely careful about how you apply these filters.

In most databases, these filters will appear on the left side after you run a search. The most commonly used filters include article or publication type, and publication dates.

Avoid applying filters that will unnecessarily exclude articles you may want to see. These include filters such as species, ages, text availability, and subject discipline. When you apply these filters, you are using controlled vocabulary or database indexing to exclude articles. This is not always a reliable method of excluding articles, and in these cases you may wish to work with your informationist to discuss the best approach.

Forward and Backward Citation Searching

If you find an article that is very relevant, search the reference list to identify other literature that may be pertinent to your research. Conversely, some databases will show you which articles have cited that article.

Similar Articles in PubMed

In PubMed, there is a feature called “Similar Articles.” Click on this option to find other articles that are indexed in a similar way to the one you chose. You can find it on the right-hand menu inside the article record, and at the bottom of the article page.