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Medical Sciences: Database Search Tips: Fields

Recommended resources for the College of Osteopathic Medicine

Field Searching

Field Searching is a very important technique that you can use to focus your search results. Most databases will give you the option to limit your search to your keywords having to have been found in one of a database document's fields - in other words, the metadata  (information about the document) that the database indexes / labels each document with, in order to be able to quickly retrieve the document when asked to do so. These choices of fields to search can most often be found as a pull-down list right next to the search box.  Choose which field to search in before running your search:


Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor

How Database Fields Improve your Search

  • Limiting your search to specific database fields can yield more precise results.
  • For instance, if you are looking for books by Adam Smith instead of about him, it is more efficient to limit your search to the author field.
  • To find various fields within a database, look for drop down boxes or menus to select the field you want to search.
  • Then combine words and fields together with boolean or proximity operators, depending on how precise you want to be.

  • If you do not choose a specific field, the database usually reverts to a keyword search, where your words will be searched throughout the record.
  • If your keyword search retrieves too many records (more than 50), try narrowing your search to retrieve a more manageable result.
  • Information overload - too many results - can be a worse situation than finding only 10 very relevant results.

Need help understanding fields? Ask Us!

The exact fields available will vary by database.  However, most will allow you to limit your search to results where your keywords were in a document's abstract, its title, or allow you to specify that you want results where your search term was an author's name or perhaps in the title of a publication.

Most databases also offer the option to specify which field(s) to search in by adding Field Codes to your search query (i.e., by typing them in by hand).  These specific codes, and exactly how you have to type them into your search for it to work properly, will of course vary by database. This way of doing field searching was the norm in the early days of databases, and some searchers still prefer it.

Since many databases by default search the entire text of the documents they contain, focusing your search to the words having to have been found in the title, keywords (supplied by either the database or the author)  or abstract is one of the best and easiest ways to make sure that your  search results are articles that are truly focused on your topic - as opposed to getting articles that contain your search words in random places in the text or perhaps somewhere in the list of references, as can often happen.


The record belows shows the field names on the left: Author, Title, Source, Standard No., Details, Language, Abstract, Descriptor