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Structured information searching

Search technique


Combine your search words - Boolean operators

You combine your search words with operators called AND, OR and NOT. Which of these you use depends on whether you want to be able to find more or less hits or whether you wish to exclude a word from your search.


AND is used when you want to combine two or more words that must both be included in the same article. With a search for diabetes AND diet, the articles you obtain from your search will contain both words. Combining different search words with AND means that you obtain fewer hits.


OR is used when you want to combine two or more words where both or one of them must be included in the same article. With a search for "Nurse attitudes" OR Attitudes, the articles you obtain will contain either both words or one of them. Combining different search words with OR means that you will obtain more hits.


NOT is used when you want to exclude a certain word in your search. With a search for Nurs* you will for example also get articles that contain the word Nursery, and that perhaps have nothing at all to do with your query. With a search for Nurs* NOT Nursery you exclude the articles that contain that word. But use NOT sparingly, since there could for example be articles about both Nursing and Nursery, which could perhaps be relevant, but these will not appear in your list of hits since by using NOT you have instructed the database to exclude these articles.



Truncation means that you replace one or more letters at the end of a word with a *.
Truncation makes your search more flexible. If you for example search for the word child* you will get hits for:

     child, child's, children, children's childhood​

Note that truncation may also result in irrelevant hits. If you truncate early on in a word, a search for hum* for example can give hits for such different words as humour, human, humbug, humerus, or hummus.


Phrase search

If you wish to search for whole phrases or terms with several words you will need to do a phrase search. A phrase search is done by using double quotation marks (""): e.g. "Innovation management"

By using double quotation marks these two words are kept together, so that the database searches for the phrase. Without quotation marks the database would have searched for articles containing both words, but they do not need to come straight after one another. This could mean that it gives Innovation in the title and Management in the abstract (summary), and the two words do not need to have anything to do with each other. 

Examples of the difference in hits between searching for Innovation Management as a phrase and not in the database ABI/Inform.


Image showing difference in results list due to the fixing of the word order with quotation marks.



Wildcards are characters used to replace letters inside a word. This can be useful for example if a word can be spelt in different ways.

How wildcards are used differs from database to database. See the Help section in the database you are using. 


analy?e (analyze, analyse)

Lind??ist (Lindqvist, Lindkvist, Lindquist etc.)


Proximity operators

Different databases use different proximity operators. See the Help section in the database you are using.

The examples below are from Scopus.

  • W/3 - says that the words you are searching for may be no more than 3 words apart from each other.
  • PRE/4 - says that the first word may be no more than 4 words from the last one, i.e. conditioning in what order the words must occur.

If you for example search for: child* W/4 right* , you will get hits where the word child* and right may be no more than 4 words apart, as in:

Protecting the rights of children accused of migrant smuggling

English Children’s Respectful Reflections of the Rights and Lives of their Kenyan Peers

A rule of thumb for if you want to find words in the same:

● Phrase 3-5 words

● Sentence ca 15 words

● Paragraph ca 50 words


Use the search fields

One way to direct your search and make it more precise is to use the search fields. If you’re searching for e.g. an author’s name you use the search field author. In this way you limit your number of hits to articles written by one author with that name.


Search in more than one database

To make your search more comprehensive and not risking to miss information it’s a good idea to search in more than one database.