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Library Research: Search Fields

Learn how to expand or narrow searches, use nesting, phrase searching, truncation and wildcards, proximity, and more

Search Fields

Search fields in databases

What are search fields?

All databases and journal package interfaces generally provide specific search field pull-down menus to choose from, usually close to text boxes in which you enter search terms.

The example below shows fields for the PsycINFO database. 

CSA Illumina Advanced Search Screen Search Fields

Since databases are created and maintained by different organizations, not all have the same names for, or number of, search fields.

Fields available in one database might not be available in another database.

Descriptions of Specific Search Fields

Search Field Description


  • ONLY searches in the (usually author-supplied) abstracts of articles, books, dissertations, etc., when available. Usually gives more precise results than database default search fields (e.g. Anywhere field in CSA or Citation and Abstract in ProQuest).


  • Search in this field when you cannot find a subject or descriptor (see below) for a concept. For example, when your concept is such a recently invented one, or such a precise phrase, that a subject term does not exist for it.


  • Search in this field when looking for reviews of an author or published work, or even of a test or measure.


  • When your search terms are mentioned in the abstract of a document, there is a very good chance that they are discussed in greater detail in the full text of the document. This is why the Abstract field is so helpful. It is a nice compromise between subject field and database default field searching.




  • Recommended that you search by last name, first name (e.g. Smith, John). If this is unsuccessful, search for the author's last name, then first name's initial (e.g. Smith, J.) Or truncate after the first letter of the first name if the database allows it (e.g. Smith, J*).


  • Truncation is available in most databases.


  • Proximity searching is generally available. It is applicable when unsure if an author is indexed with a hyphenated name (e.g. John Foster-Lynch or John Lynch). By searching for the first name within 3 words of the last, you will find the author regardless of how the middle name is indexed.
Cited References


  • ONLY searches the Cited References field available only in PsycINFO, provided that cited reference fields have been loaded into individual PsycINFO records.


  • Allows you to gauge the impact that a paper (or other published item) or author has had on subsequent research, by seeing how many subsequent documents cited their work.


  • For more information on the Cited References field, the years covered, or the types of records covered, please see the APA's PsycINFO Cited References Facts.


  • Truncation, phrase, and proximity searching are available for this field.
Descriptor / Subject


  • ONLY searches the Descriptor or Subject fields.


  • These fields contain predetermined subject terms that describe subject content found in documents.



  • Are best fields to use when searching for subjects that you know or believe that much has been written on.


  • Truncation is available for this field in most databases. Useful when wanting to retrieve results indexed with singular or plural forms of a term, such as system*, which would find system-theory or systems.


  • Phrase searching in this field is available in most databases. Useful when searching for subject terms in a phrase (e.g. "organizational studies").


Full Text


  • ONLY searches in the full text of documents (when they are available in full text).


  • Useful when searching for reviews because you can run phrase searches for authors and/or titles being reviewed. Even if a document is not a complete review, if you find mention of an author or title in the full text you could see the document's author(s) even partial views(s) on that author or title.


  • Truncation, phrase, and proximity searching in this field are available in most databases. Proximity searching is particularly useful here because it avoids the far-apart, nothing-to-do-with-each other results that can be retrieved when searching only with the AND command.




  • ISBN numbers are unique ten-digit integers assigned to each printed book. ISSN numbers are unique eight-digit integers assigned to each serial (such as a journal) title published.


  • These fields are useful to search, when, for example, you have an ISBN or ISSN number but not a book or journal title.


Default fields (can be called Keyword, Citation and Abstract, Anywhere, All Fields, or other names)


  • Default search fields in databases are what they automatically search in unless you change them in field pull-down menus.


  • These typically search across several other fields, such as Article Title, Journal Title, Subjects, Descriptors, and Abstract at once. They are designed for maximum document retrieval.


  • Useful when you are retrieving zero or too little results with other fields, and you need to expand your search to find more.


  • These give the greatest chance for serendipitous findings, due to the greatest potential amount of results. But there can be so many irrelevant results in large result sets that the relevant ones are hard to find.


  • Emerald Fulltext calls Subject terms Keywords instead. In other words, that database's keywords are what we call subjects. The PsycINFO Keyword field is also different; it contains a concise summary of the article by listing major concepts in the article, which can be supplied by authors, editors, or APA indexers.


  • Truncation, phrase, and proximity searching are available for this field in most databases.
Source / Journal Source / Journal Title / Publication Title


  • Useful fields when searching for journal articles because you can search for the journal title using one of these fields and also for article authors or titles in their respective fields at the same time. This would be a more focused search than when only using the author or article title fields alone.


  • Truncation, phrase, and proximity searching are available for these fields in most databases. Phrase searching is quite effective in this field (e.g."Journal of Personality Assessment ").


Title / Article Title / Document Title


  • In databases that index books or dissertations, the Title or Document Title field refers to titles of books or dissertations, not articles.


  • In databases that primarily index journal articles, the Title, Article Title, or Document Title fields refer to article titles.


  • Truncation, phrase, and proximity searching are available for these fields in most databases.


  • Phrase searching is is especially helpful when you already know the exact title you are searching for (e.g. "Surviving your dissertation: a comprehensive guide to content and process "). When a phrase search for a long title is unsuccessful, try searching for the part up to the first colon or similar punctuation (e.g. "Surviving your dissertation"), because the subtitle after that colon or punctuation may not be searchable in some databases.

Please note that not all contents of a database are necessarily searchable.

For example, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses contains full text dissertations, but a full text search field is not available.

Please note that while personal bibliographic software programs such as EndNote or ProCite can remotely search databases, they do not provide the same amount of search fields to choose from that the databases themselves provide in their Advanced Search screens.

Document Records

These contain search fields that are necessary to identify and index documents in an online database or catalog. Below is an example of a document record found in the ERIC database, via FirstSearch. Note that you can see many of the fields described above in this record, such as the Author, Title, Source, Abstract, Descriptor, and ISSN fields.

ERIC via FirstSearch Bibliographic Record