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Systematic literature studies, Health & Sport

Library subject page. The University Library, Agder University

4. Work - Combine the search words. Search techniques (Design your search)

Use Wildcard or truncation to include unknown characters in a word, various endings, and spellings of a word. Truncation symbol is often *

Truncation, to include different spellings, or include plurals

  • child* - will find child, or children or childhood...
  • youth* - will also find youths

Wildcard, to mask one or more character

  • wom#n - will find women or woman


  • Use the database help text for information about the wildcards and truncation symbols
  • Some databases often includes automatic stemming, includes the plural form, (EBSOhost) or lemmatization, includes different endings and different spellings (WoS, Scopus). To turn of  the automatic stemming or lemmatization use quotation marks (or curly brackets {}, example "mouse" will not find mices. Look into the database help text!
  • PubMed: use of * will turn of the automatic mapping function, read more


See also  Database guides

Norwegian video below, search techniques (EBSCOhost)




OR between words expands your results. Use OR for words from the same concepts. Use AND between words for different concepts. AND will limit your results

OR terms for the same concept

AND the different concepts together

Parenthesis, will tell the database how to organize the terms, if you use both AND, or proximity operator and OR  in the same search string

OR is used to combine terms within the same concept together – thus, expanding the search. Using OR between search terms broadens your results as any or all your search terms can be present, adolescence OR youth

AND is used to combine different concepts together, thus narrowing the search by combining terms. Using AND between your search terms narrows your search as it instructs the database that all your search terms must appear (in any order); cancer AND youth

NOT Used to exclude something and therefore narrows search - identifies references that do not contain the term following it. Be careful using the NOT operator for sensitive broad search

Order of precedence rules

If using multiple operators in the same search string, notice that they are processed in  different order of precedence in different platform (database hosts):

Scopus: OR, AND, AND NOT  (Notice also in Scoops that NOT  = AND NOT)

Therefore: Use parentheses to override operator precedence. The expression inside the parentheses is executed first.

Using AND and OR in the same search string - use () around the word combined with OR, like this:

(adolescen* OR youth*) AND (cancer OR neoplasm*)


Note also!!

AND is often used as a default operator between two words, searching with two words like this; older people, the words are most often combined with AND. Note that you can do a more narrowing search with phrases or proximity. The most broader search is using AND between the search terms. Notice also abowe, the order of precendence!

If searching for documents about adolescents, social media and impact on loneliness, notice that this search string:

(adolescents OR youth OR young people) AND (social media) AND (lonely OR loneliness)

Is executed in Scopus like this, and it is not correct:

(adolescents OR youth OR young AND people) AND (social AND media) AND (lonely OR loneliness)

It is the same as: 
((adolescents OR youth OR young) AND people) AND (social AND media) AND (lonely OR loneliness)

(adolescents OR youth OR (young AND people)) AND (social AND media) AND (lonely OR loneliness)

Or use phrases for young people /social media

(adolescents OR youth OR "young people") AND ("social media") AND (lonely OR loneliness)

Or use proximity, and possible more terms for young people:

(adolescents OR youth OR (young w/2 (people OR person OR population OR adult))) AND ("social media") AND (lonely OR loneliness)


Database default value


Automatic AND. If doing a search without specify fields the automatic mapping function also includes the MeSH (Medical subject headings). Look into the search history. Go to advanced, the open the history search details:

Example, from the basic search: pressure ulcer

The PubMed is executing the search like this:

Search: "pressure ulcer"[MeSH Terms] OR ("pressure"[All Fields] AND "ulcer"[All Fields]) OR "pressure ulcer"[All Fields]he terms in the search must be within a specified number of terms (n). Either word may appear first.


Boolean/phrase search mode, automatic proximity operator between words, N5: pressure ulcer = pressure N5 ulcer

Find all my search term = AND between two words: pressure ulcer = pressure AND ulcer

Ovid Advanced search, two words are searching as phrases:  pressure ulcer = "pressure ulcer"
Scopus Default AND: pressure ulcer =  pressure AND ulcer  
Web of Science Default AND: pressure ulcer = pressure AND ulcer

Phrase search- is a search for a combined concept with quotation marks around the words – to ensure hits where these words are standing next to each other:  "quality of life"

See also use of proximity to broaden the search, or using AND between the word instead

Proximity searching is a way to search for two or more words that occur within a certain number of words from each other (EBSCO)

This is a more broad search than searching words as phrases (may retrieve more of the relevant articles that exist in the database), but more narrowing than using AND between the word (retrieve less irrelevant articles, but could miss relevant)

Example the concept older people

  • Phrase search: "old* people*" - finding exact old.. before the word people
  • Proxmity: old* NEARBY people - finding the word old* nearby the word people, in any order (Note the different proximity operators used in different search interfaces below!)
  • AND Boolean: old* AND people* Notice that search: old* people* with no operator or phrases, is in most cases searched with AND between the words, AND being the default operator.

Note how the different database interfaces are using the proximity operator. Read the database help text


N# - Near Operator (N) - ex N5 finds the words if they are within five words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear. For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that would match tax reform as well as reform of income tax.

W# - Within Operator (W) - In the following example, W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.

Note the search mode option:

  • Boolean/phrase search mode: N5 between two words
  • Find all my search term: AND between two words


The ADJ operators finds two terms next to each other in the specified order. 
The ADJ1 operators finds two terms next to each other in any order. 
The ADJ2 operator finds terms in any order and with one word (or none) between them. 
The ADJ3 operator finds terms in any order with two words (or fewer) between them. 
The ADJ4 operator finds terms in any order and with three words (or fewer) between them, and so on
OBS adj4 tilsvarer N3 i EBSCHOhost



W/n "within". Where the terms in the search must be within a specified number of terms (n). Either word may appear first.


Terms must appear in a specific order between words 


To create a proximity search in PubMed, enter terms using the following format:
"search terms"[field:~N]
More information from PubMed update 29.11.2022/NLM Technical Bulletin

Example: "rationing healthcare"[tiab:~2] 

Proximity search cannot be combined with a wildcard, use OR insted:

"rationing healthcare"[tiab:~2] OR "rationing health"[tiab:~2]

Cochrane library

NEXT - Finds the terms when they appear next to each other. Terms must appear in the order specified. Use for phrase searching with wildcards.


NEAR/X - Finds the terms when they are within X words of each other where X = the maximum number of words between search terms. Terms can appear in either order. NEAR/X Example: cancer near/3 lung (finds lung cancer, as well as, cancer of the lung)"

Web of Science


Use NEAR/x to find records where the terms joined by the operator are within a specified number of words of each other. Replace the x with a number to specify the maximum number of words that separate the terms.



Look for documents that contain two search terms, in any order, within a specified number of words apart.  Replace ‘n’ with a number. In the example, 3 means within 3 words.  Help information: 

Video Demo OVID; ADJn

In a systematic search specify the field code for the words. Find the field codes in the database help text, examples

PubMed, FAQ user guide, appendix, Filed guides- Link -See also  MEDLINE®/PubMed® Data Element (Field) Descriptions

Ovid, Click on the the database information icon. Go to Ovid (More information below)

EBSCOhost. se detail information about the database in the database list, and select more information. Go to EBSCOhost list of available database for UiA or use the direct links below




Scopus, use the advanced search mode

Norwegian demo, Field codes used in EBSCOhost database


General field codes (word indexed fields, a single word from the field is searchable)

.mp (word from the standards field, includes the fields below, mp - multiple purposes)

.ti (word from title)

.ab (word from abstract)

.id (key concept, used in APA PsycInfo)

.kf (keyword from author, used in MEDLINE and EMBASE, differs from .kw that is phrase indexed)

.hw (heading word, a single word from a subject heading. Differs from sh, subject heading that is phrase indexed. For exact subject heading use the slash / and if you need to search the narrowing subject heading, use exp before the heading word/phrase)

Example search string:

(physical activity or sport* OR exercise).ti,ab,id,hw

Notice that in Advanced search, the words physical activity is searched as a phrase "physical activity", in other database this is often searches as physical AND acitivty


APA PsycInfo

Se flere tips feltkoder for APA PsycInfo på Ovid guiden. Gå til guiden