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Scopus: Keyword searching

Use this guide to help you search Scopus more effectively and to find out how to manage your search results. After reading this introductory page, click each heading in the following row of tabs:

Selecting keywords (search terms)

To find articles/document on a topic, enter keywords (search terms) into Scopus's search boxes. Scopus 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:

  1. Identify the words/keywords in your assignment/research question that are most relevant to your topic (i.e. words that distinguish the title from any other title). For an example, let's consider this question: “Investigate the extent of the impact on personal well-being if individuals adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle".

    Using our example, you might select the following keywords: well-being, eco-friendly and lifestyle. It's generally best to exclude generic terms such as "impact".
  2. Treat each word that you select from your title as a "separate" concept within the overall topic. Then, for each concept, identify any alternative words that have the same/similar meaning (or have opposite meanings e.g. inequality, equality). Different authors use different words to describe the same concept and if your keywords don't reflect this, you may miss important articles. Here's a list of keywords, organised by concept, based on our search example: 
 Concept 1 well-being wellbeing quality of life life satisfaction others?
Concept 2 eco-friendly  green others?
Concept 3  lifestyle behaviour     others?

Searching for different endings of the same word

  • Plural versions: Scopus automatically searches for both the singular and plural versions of the same word, so if you enter behaviour, it also searches for behaviours
  • Truncation: with 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. behav* searches for behave, behaves, behaved, behaving, behaviour, behavioral, behavioural 
  • US spellings: Scopus automatically searches for both the UK and US variant spellings of many 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 keywords

  • Using multiple search boxes: Note the screenshot above: if your topic contains multiple concepts, you should enter each concept's set of keywords in a separate search box. To display an additional search box, click the + add search field button just below and to the left of the search boxes. Don't change the default "AND" setting between boxes - you need this setting so that each of your results covers all the concepts.
  • Entering alternative keywords: If you've identified alternative keywords for the same concept, you must enter OR in between each one e.g. eco-friendly or green or sustainab*Otherwise, Scopus limits your search results to those that only feature ALL of the alternative keywords.
  • Entering phrases: to search for a precise phrase, enter the words within curly/ squiggly brackets e.g. {life satisfaction}. This prevents Scopus searching for each word in a phrase separately, thereby retrieving too many irrelevant results. If you use "speech marks" instead, Scopus searches a little more loosely for the phrase by including any singular/plural variants and any differences between UK/US spellings.

Follow-up citing articles

  • In the right-hand column of each search result, you find a 'cited by' number which is also a link. This number tells you the number of times that the article/document has been cited by other documents. Click this link to take you to a list of those citing documents and discover how one piece of research has impacted upon further research. 
  • You can also re-sort your results to appear in the order of the most highly cited documents but be cautious - high citation counts don't necessarily equate with the most reputable work. Indeed, a highly cited paper may be highly contentious! Also, recent papers, and documents in newer titles, 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 W/ followed by a number of your choice e.g. W/5. In the following example, we are asking Scopus 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* W/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*) W/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. For example:
    "social work course*" or ((train* or teach* or educat*) W/5 "social work*")

Error message

  • If you enter a long string of search terms using multiple boxes, and you then apply filters from the left-hand column, this may result in the error message, "this bookmarked page can not be displayed". If that happens, click the Advanced Search' link and then enter your search terms again as in the example displayed in Scopus.
  • For example, if you are searching across titles, abstracts and keywords, enter each string of terms within in its own separate pair of brackets prefaced by TITLE-ABS-KEY with AND entered between each string as follows: 

    TITLE-ABS-KEY("social polic*" OR procedur*) AND TITLE-ABS-KEY(tobacco OR smoking)