Finding scientific information: Using search terms

Using search terms


When you have found suitable search terms it is time to combine them into a search string.

The simplest way to do this is to write the words one after the other. By modifying the search string you get a better result.


To modify the search string you can use

  • a symbol for truncation (e.g. employ*)
  • quotation marks for phrases (e.g. "social media")
  • operators (AND, OR, NOT)





Combining search terms

By truncating search terms you can include all the different forms of the word in your search, e.g. plurals and different cases. The most common symbol for truncation is the asterisk *. Usually the symbol is used at the end of the word, but in some databases you can also use it at the beginning or in the middle of the word. Nowadays many databases search for the different forms of the words automatically.

A replacement character usually replaces 0-1 characters. By using a replacement character you can get all the different forms of the word in your search. The symbol for a replacement character varies between databases, so be sure to check the database guides for this.


Using truncation in Scopus: product* searches e.g. products, production, 
producting, producted, productive

*behaviour* produces e.g. the words neurobehaviour, biobehavioural

Using a replacement character in Scopus: organi?ation searches for organization and organisation


By using quotation marks (phrase search) you can search with the combination of two or more words. The words written inside the quotation marks will appear in that order in the search results. There are differences in phrase searches between databases, which you can check in the database quick guide.

Phrase search with quotation marks: "plastic waste"

When searching without quotation marks, the words are searched individually in the database. Therefore, the search words may occur far away from each other, so the search results may include unusable material.

litter plastic


Boolean operators OR, AND and NOT are usually used to combine search terms and strings. In many databases you can also use proximity operators. Search terms with their truncation symbols and the operators that combine them form a search string, and this is expressed differently depending on the database. In addition to the used operators, combining search terms and strings is affected by the search order and the use of brackets. It is wise to check the operators and their functions in the guides.