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Doing the literature review: Advanced search in a database

Advanced search in a database

Many scholarly databases offer an Advanced search option, with search functionalities that can be very useful when you are searching for literature to include in a literature review.

An advanced search often allows you to:

  • Select specific fields to search, for example title words and keywords. Sometimes you can search fields that are not included in the basic search.
  • Combine fields to search - you can combine a search for title words with a search for keywords.
  • Use Boolean operators not available in the basic search, for example the NOT operator.
  • Use proximity operators - to make sure that the search terms are within a specified number of words of each other.

Some databases offer the advanced search as a command line search: you have to enter the field codes, operators etc. yourself. This may sound like a lot of work, but it also allows you to prepare a search query in Word or Excel and copy/paste the query in the database's search interface. This is especially handy when you want to use the same search terms in multiple databases.

The video tutorial Web of Science: Advanced Search (6:16) gives a broad overview of the advanced search options in one particular database: Web of Science.

Using the advanced search - an example

In the handout Using the advanced search - an example (PDF) you can see an example of a search query using the Advanced search interface in Scopus, Sociological Abstracts (via ProQuest) and PsycINFO (via Ovid).