Skip to Main Content
library logo banner

Web of Science (All Databases): Keyword searching

Selecting keywords (search terms)

To find articles/document on a topic, enter keywords (search terms) into Web of Science's search boxes. Web of Science 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: “Evaluate various options for preventing injuries in the sport of high jumping". 

    Using our example, you might select the following keywords from this title: preventing, injuries and high jump. It's generally best to exclude generic terms such as "evaluate".
  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 prevention avoidance   others?
Concept 2 injuries fracture dislocation
Concept 3  high jump     others?

Searching for different endings of the same word

  • 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 injur*, Web of Science searches for: injure, injures injured, injuring, injury. Web of Science automatically searches for both the singular and plural versions of some words, but not all, so you might need the asterisk to retrieve both. 
  • US spellings: Web of Science automatically searches for both the UK and US variant spellings of the many words. For example, if you enter stigmatise, it will also search for stigmatize. The exception to this is if you truncate the word by entering the asterisk after the 's' (stigmatis*) because the database has to search for each letter before the asterisk appears. Therefore, it's better to place the asterisk after the 'i' (stigamati*). Other common UK/US variants include colour, color, paediatric, pediatric.

Entering keywords

How to enter your keywords in the database


  • Using multiple search boxes: Note the screenshot. 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 row button just below and to the left of the search boxes. Don't change the default "AND" setting between each search box - you need this 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. injur* or fractur* or dislocat* or damag*. Otherwise, Web of Science 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 "speech marks e.g. "high jump" or "physical therapy". 

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. sugar drinks, sugary drinks, sugar-based drinks...
  • To do this, specify the maximum number of words to appear between your keywords by entering NEAR/ followed by a number of your choice e.g. NEAR/5. In the following example, Web of Science will search for results in which the keywords "drink" and "sugar*" appear within the space of 5 or fewer words of each other: drink* NEAR/5 sugar*
  • If there are any alternative keywords for either of your search terms, enter these within a set of brackets as follows:
    (drink* or beverage*) NEAR/5 (sugar* or sweeten*)

  • 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:
    "soft drink*" or ((drink* or beverage*) NEAR/5 (sugar* or sweeten*))

Follow-up citing articles

  • In the right-hand column of many search results, you find a (hyperlinked) number above the word 'citations'. This number represents the number of time that the article/document has been cited by other documents. Click on this number 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 pf those that are most highly cited (click 'Citations: highest first'). However, 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.