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IBSS: Keyword searching

A guide to literature searching and managing searches in IBSS

Short video (3 min 33 sec)

Selecting your keywords (search terms)

To find articles/document on a topic, enter keywords (search terms) into IBSS's search boxes. IBSS then searches for documents that include your keywords in their titles, abstracts (summaries) and other key fields. The following steps will help you carefully identify and organise your keywords so that you're more likely to find the best results:

 Concept 1 social capital cultural capital  
Concept 2 participation voting turnout
Concept 3  election electoral  
  1. For the purpose of these instructions, we are using the following example assignment/research question: "Investigate the extent to which the possession of social capital influences participation in elections. 
  2. Identify the words in the assignment/research question that are most relevant to your topic i.e. those words that distinguish your topic from any other topic. Generally, it's best to ignore generic words such as "influence". In our example, you might select the following: social capital, participation and elections. 
  3. Treat each word that you select from your title as a "separate" concept within the overall topic. For each concept, identify any alternative words with a same/similar meaning (or have opposite meanings e.g. inequality, equality). Different authors can use different language to describe the same concept so your keywords must reflect this - otherwise, you may miss important search results. 

Searching for different endings of the same word

  • Plural versions: IBSS automatically searches for both the singular and plural versions of the same word, so if you enter behaviour, it also searches for behaviours.
  • Using a asterisk (truncation): in some searches, you can increase the number of your results by entering an asterisk at the end of the stem of a word e.g. if you enter participa*, IBSS searches for:

    participate, participates, participated, participating

    participant, participants, 
    participation, participatory

  • US spellings: IBSS automatically searches for both the UK and US variant spellings of some words e.g. if you enter behaviour, it also searches for behavior. Other common US/UK variants include the appearance of the letter Z rather than S.

Entering your search terms






  • Using multiple search boxes: if your topic contains multiple concepts, enter each concept's set of keywords in its own separate search box. To display additional boxes, click the + add a row button. Don't change the default "AND" setting between boxes - this setting ensures that each search result relates to all the concepts. 
  • Entering alternative keywords: If you've identified alternative keywords for the same concept, you must enter the word "orin between each one e.g. "social capital" or "cultural capital". Otherwise, IBSS limits your search results to those that only feature ALL of the alternative keywords.‚Äč
  • Entering phrases: to search for a precise phrase, enter the words within "speech marks" e.g. "social capital". This prevents IBSS searching for each word in a phrase separately, thereby retrieving too many irrelevant results.
  • Peer-reviewed option: You can select the peer-reviewed option just under the search boxes - this limits your results to those from peer-reviewed publications in which submitted articles are appraised by other researchers and only permitted for publication if they satisfy quality standards. 

Citing articles

  • Just below each search result (to the right of its 'Links' button'), are two 'times cited' numbers, each indicating the number of times that the article/document has been cited by other documents. One number links to a list of citing documents indexed by ProQuest databases (including IBSS) whilst the other links to citing documents indexed by the Web of Science database. Follow the links to discover how one piece of research influences another.
  • If a link isn't provided for a citing article, search the Library Catalogue to check for its availability, first searching for the article title and if that fails, search for just the journal title in which it was published. You may find it helpful to change the catalogue's search box setting from 'everything' to 'journals'.     
  • You can also re-sort your results to appear in the order of those most highly cited but note that high citation counts don't necessarily indicate reputable work. Also, recent papers, and documents in newer journals, are less likely to be highly cited.

Proximity searching

  • With some searches, it helps to specify that you want two or more keywords to appear in close proximity (i.e. in titles or abstracts). This is useful where multiple variations of the same phrase exist e.g. "training social workers", "social work teaching" or "to teach social workers".
  • To do this, specify the maximum number of words that should appear between your keywords by entering NEAR/ followed by a number of your choice e.g. NEAR/5. In the following example, we are asking IBSS to find results where the keywords "training" and "social work*" appear in close proximity to each other i.e. within the space of 5 or fewer words: train* NEAR/5 "social work*"
  • If there are any alternative keywords for either of your search terms, enter these within a set of brackets as follows: (train* or teach* or educat*) NEAR/5 "social work*" 
  • If you need to enter further search terms on the same theme but they don't require a proximity search, you must enter an additional set of brackets around all of those that are proximity-related - as follows: "social work course*" or ((train* or teach* or educat*) NEAR/5 ("social work*" or "social care))