Search Tips
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Successful searching is largely about being precise.

The tips, techniques, and information here can help you search with precision and find what you need.


A few basics

How ProQuest interprets your search

Operators, fields, and special characters

Operator precedence

Search fields

Wildcards and truncation

Subject searching

Search syntax conversion guide

A few basics

How ProQuest interprets your search

You can search by entering words into a search box without specifying search fields. When you do:

Operators, fields, and special characters

Note: You can enter operators in either lowercase or uppercase - OR will work the same as or.

Operator Description Example
AND Look for documents that contain all of your words or phrases.
Use AND to narrow your search and get fewer results.
food AND nutrition
OR Look for documents that contain any of your words or phrases.
Use OR to broaden your search and get more results.
food OR nutrition
NOT Look for documents that contain one of your search terms, but not the other.  nursing NOT shortage
NEAR/n or N/n Look for documents that contain two search terms, in any order, within a specified number of words apart.  Replace ‘n’ with a number. In the example, 3 means within 3 words. 
nursing NEAR/3 education
media N/3 women
PRE/n or P/n Look for documents that contain one search term that appears within a specified number of words before a second term.
Replace ‘n’ with a number.  In the example, 4 means the first term precedes the second term by 4 or fewer words. 
nursing PRE/4 education
shares P/4 technologies
EXACT or X Look for your exact search term in its entirety. Used primarily for searching specific fields, like Subject. For instance, a search on su.exact("higher education"), will return documents with a subject term of "higher education", but not documents with a subject term of "higher education funding".  SU.EXACT("higher education")
SU.X("higher education")


Link a descriptor term to a Subheading (qualifier) by selecting the proper qualifier in the Thesaurus window, or by using the LNK (or --) in Basic, Advanced or Command Line Search.

Also, link two related data elements together, to ensure proper specificity in your search.

MESH(descriptor LNK qualifier)

MESH(aspirin LNK "adverse effects")

MESH(aspirin -- "adverse effects")


IND("dry eye") and RG(Canada)

will retrieve documents where a drug has been indicated for treatment of dry eye in the region of Canada.


You can also use operators to combine searches. See combining searches to learn more.

Operator precedence

ProQuest follows a default order when interpreting a search that uses operators to combine search terms. If your search includes operators such as AND or OR, ProQuest combines them in the order indicated below:

  1. NEAR
  2. PRE
  3. AND
  4. OR
  5. NOT

For example, the search:

education AND elementary NOT secondary

is interpreted in this order:

(education AND elementary) NOT secondary

Since education AND elementary is interpreted first, the search will return results on education that discuss elementary education, but not secondary education.

Note: For more controlled searching, use parentheses to override ProQuest's default operator precedence.

Search fields  

Every document in every ProQuest database is indexed to capture individual bits of information about the document. You can use indexed search fields to create very precise searches.

For example, AU(smith) will retrieve only documents where smith appears in the author field. Similarly, AU(smith) and TI(food) will retrieve only documents with food in the title and smith as the author.

Separate codes with commas to search multiple fields at once.

For example:

For more information, see frequently used search fields.

Target search query to multiple search fields at once

For more targeted searching, use multiple field codes with one search query.

Wildcards and truncation

You can use wildcards and truncation when you're looking for documents that contain spelling variants, or words that begin with the same character string.

Character Description Example
? Wildcard character - used to replace any single character, either inside or at the right end of a word. Multiple wildcards can be used to represent multiple characters. nurse?
Finds: nurses, nursed, but not nurse

Finds: smith and smyth

Finds: added, adult, adopt

Truncation character (*) - one * for many characters. Use the truncation character at the beginning (left-hand truncation), the end (right-hand truncation), or in the middle of search terms.

To specify a specific upper limit for term expansion, use term [*N]. The default range is 0-10 characters.

Finds: nurse, nurses, nursed

Finds: colour, color

Finds: told, household, bold


Finds: upbeat, downbeat, offbeat, heartbeat 

$n or [*n] $n and [*n] are equivalent operators used to denote up to how many characters you want to truncate.

nutr$5, nutr[*5]
Finds: nutrition, nutrient, nutrients

< Less than. Used for numeric fields like publication year. YR(<2005)
> Greater than. Used for numeric fields like publication year. YR(>2005)
<= Less than or equal to. Used for numeric fields like publication year. YR(<=2005)
>= Greater than or equal to. Used for numeric fields like publication year. YR(>=2005)
- Use a hyphen to indicate a range when searching numerical fields, such as Publication date. YR(2005-2008)

Subject searching

Qualifiers (subheadings)

Qualifiers help you focus your search on specific aspects of a subject. For example, use the "adverse effects" qualifier with a drug name to find documents about adverse effects of that drug.

You can search with qualifiers by using either of the following syntaxes:

You can also use abbreviations for qualifiers in two databases - MEDLINE and EMBASE.

For example, use the abbreviation ae in place of adverse effects in MEDLINE:

MESH(acetaminophen -- ae)

Thesauri subject terms with qualifiers

Two thesauri, MeSH (MEDLINE) and EMBASE now provide the ability to view qualifiers associated with subject terms, then select them for use.

Subject searching with thesauri

With a thesaurus open, you can:

See Thesaurus to learn more.

Search syntax conversion guide


In the new ProQuest Dialog, you may notice some search syntax differences related to the operators, truncation/wildcard characters, and field codes you've been using. This guide details those differences.

DataStar search syntax conversion guide

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