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Web of Science: Search Tips

Choosing a Database

Web of Science is a platform that allows you to search many database simultaneously. Most people are fine with searching this large database. But if you want to search a more narrow portion of knowledge, i.e.,, humanities, sciences, or biology, click on All Databases and select a database as illustrated below. 

  • BIOSIS is a biology/life sciences database.
  • MEDLINE is a medical, nursing, and allied health database.
  • Zoological Record is a leading taxonomic reference and database of animal biology.

Basic Search

The standard search screen is illustrated below. For a short six minute video on basic searching, refer to Quick Tour

  • Unless you have good reason not to, choose the TOPIC field to begin your search. This field searches the title, abstract, and keyword fields. The resulting search is broad, but not too broad.
  • Click Add Another Field if your search is complex. (See illustration)
  • Note the search terms and symbols that can be added to a search. Click on Click here for tips to improve your search (to the right of the search box) to learn more. 


Using Synonyms (Words that mean the same)

Always include as many synonyms as you can think of. But be sure they are true synonyms (see the illustration) and not terms that will retrieve tangential material! For example, "cloning" is similar to "genetic mapping" but not synonymous. Use the asterisk (*) to find all similar words with the same root. You may enclose phrases with quotation marks (") for added specificity.

Refine a Search

After your search results display, you'll notice a column of information on the left as illustrated below. This data was mined and sorted from the retrieved articles. Click on more options / values... to see all the data in that area. You can be more specific in your search results (fewer records, but more relevant) by selecting words or phrases that more closely relate to your topic. After selecting relevant words or phrases, click Refine.

For more information, view this four minute video.

Times Cited

When doing research, it is often useful to find important works - those articles to which every researcher refers. This can easily be done by using the Times Cited option found in the Sort by: menu on the top right of the screen. In the second illustration, notice that the article entitled The value of believing in free will was cited by 85 authors. This tells you that its probably an important article.

Cited Reference Searching is a very powerful search technique. If you need to perform an exhaustive search of the literature, I recommend you view this video. It's seven minutes long, but worth the investment.