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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 on a topic in Scopus, you need to enter 'keywords' (search terms) into its search boxes. Scopus then searches for your keywords across the titles and abstracts (summaries) of articles and other documents. Therefore, If you don't enter a strong set of keywords, you are less likely to find relevant literature on your topic so it's important to think carefully about your keywords before entering them in Scopus
To help you do this, please follow these steps:

  1. For the purpose of these instructions, we are using the following example of an assignment title: “Investigate the extent of the impact on personal well-being if individuals adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle." 
  2. Identify the words in your assignment title (or 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 "impact". Using our example, you might identify the following keywords from this title: well-being, eco-friendly and lifestyle. 
  3. Think of each keyword as a separate concept within the overall theme of your topic. For each concept, identify any alternative words that have the same/similar meaning (for example, consider terminology used in lecture notes and textbooks). Also consider any words that have opposite meanings (e.g. inequality in addition to equality). Different authors can use different words to describe the same concept so your keywords need to reflect this range of language - otherwise, you may miss important search results. Here's a list of potential keywords, organised by concept, for the above search example - it's not an exhaustive list.
 Concept 1 well-being wellbeing quality of life life satisfaction
Concept 2 eco-friendly  green
Concept 3  lifestyle behaviour    

Entering 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 will search a little more loosely for the phrase by including any singular/plural variants on a word and any differences between UK/US spellings.
  • Entering search terms using OR: If you have a number of alternative keywords for the same concept, you must enter the word or in between each keyword.e.g. eco-friendly or green.  Otherwise, Scopus will limit your search results to those that only feature ALL of the alternative keywords.
  • Use of AND: Note the screenshot below. 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. The default setting in between each search box should be AND - don't change this if you want each of your search results to cover all of the concepts that you identified. Once you have entered all of your search terms, click Search to get your results.

Screenshot demonstrating how to enter sets of keywords in Scopus

Searching for different endings / spellings of the same word

  • Plural versions: Scopus will automatically search for both the singular and plural versions of the same word, so if you enter behaviour, it will also search 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. if you just enter behav*, Scopus will search for:
    behave, behaves, behaved, behaving 
    behavior, behaviors, behaviour, behaviours

    behavioral, behavioural
  • US spellings: Scopus will automatically search for both the UK and US variant spellings of the many words e.g. if you enter behaviour, it will also search for behavior.  Other common US/UK variants include the appearance of the letter Z rather than S.  

Follow-up citing articles

  • In the right-hand column of each search result, you will 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 there are several similar versions of the same phrase 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 eachother 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*) 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 shown in the example on the screen.
  • 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)