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2.3. Field searching

What is field searching?

As we explained in Module B, every document in a library database is indexed to capture individual bits of information about the document (e.g. its title, author, publication year, publisher, etc.). These bits of information are stored in fields that can be searched separately. Field searching is searching a specific field of all database records.

Nearly all databases have an Advanced Search page with multiple fields to choose from. The default field in a database is usually 'All Fields' or 'Anywhere'. Searching this field means that you're searching all fields at the same time. Other common fields include Author, Title, Source/Publication Name (=journal title), Abstract, and several topical fields (such as Keywords, Subjects, or Descriptors).

Databases sometimes use abbreviations for fields, for example SU - Subjects, AU - Author, or TI - Article Title. These abbreviations are called 'field codes'. 

When is field searching helpful?

Field searching is particularly helpful when, for instance,

  • you're looking for documents written by a specific author;
  • you know the title of the document you want;
  • you want documents on a particular subject;
  • you want documents that specifically mention your search term(s) in their abstract.


Suppose you've been assigned to write a paper on opioid overdose and how effective existing treatment programs are in treating and preventing overdoses. The course lecturer has mentioned that K. Tobin has done a lot of research in the field, and that International Journal of Drug Policy is a reputable journal that regularly publishes articles on this topic.

The example below demonstrates how efficient a field search can be.

In the database PsycINFO a simultaneous search in the Author, Subject Terms, and Source field returns three very useful articles written by Karin Tobin (and others) on your topic, published in International Journal of Drug Policy.


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