Searching specific fields
So far we've focused on searching for materials by topic with both keyword and subject searches. However there may be times when you want to search in other ways, such as for works by an author. You may even want to find works by an author that are on a particular topic. To do this you need to know about searching fields.
Each item in a database has several fields which give information about it:
- author: the author's name, usually last name first.
- title: in the case of journal articles this field lists the article's title; in the case of books this field lists the book's title.
- journal/magazine title: this field lists the title of the journal or magazine in which the article appears; it may also include volume, issue, and pagination information.
- publication date: the date of publication; may contain month, day, and year, month and year, or just year.
- abstract: this field is usually a paragraph summarizing the article content; it might be written by the article author or by an employee of the database producer.
Many databases allow you to search more than one of these fields at once, which makes for very powerful searching. For example, a keyword search can be combined with an author search to retrieve articles on a topic by a certain author. Or, a subject heading search can be crossed with a journal title search to retrieve items on a topic reported in a particular source.
Here is an example of a search that combines a subject search with an author search in the PsycInfo database:
First, select the field(s) you want to search. Second, enter the appropriate terms in the search boxes. Remember that if you are working with controlled vocabulary subject headings you will need to enter the terms exactly as they appear in the thesaurus! Finally, run the search.
Using the abstract field to extract information
The abstract field is a summary of the main points of the article. Often abstracts are written with similar language and terminology as that used in the item itself. Therefore, searching the abstract field can be an excellent way to find articles that talk about your keywords in depth: if a term appears in the abstract it is probably an important concept in the article as a whole. Searching the abstract field can help you avoid items that merely mention your search terms in passing.
Be sure to check the database's "help" section for more tips on searching fields in that specific database -- many offer specialized fields that can help you create powerful search strategies. For additional assistance, see our Help with the online/fulltext databases page.
In the next section we'll discuss using database limit features to focus our searches even more.