Web of Science for Library Research

Web of Science topic search

Searching WoS.  If you do not have a specific article in mind, you can search the Web of Science collections using keywords just like most other databases.  Type your keywords into the search box and leave the field on the default choice: Topic

A topic search in Web of Science locates matches only within the Title, Abstract, and Keywords fields of articles.

Once you have tried a basic topic search, you will have many options to narrow or broaden the results.  You can do that by exploring alternative keywords, and by refining the categories in which to run the search.

Keywords in WoS are different.  Unlike some databases (e.g., PsycInfo, ERIC), Web of Science does not have a thesaurus of authoritative subject tags, but it does identify keyword tags, which are both author-supplied keywords and Web of Science-assigned keywords. Look at the results to pick out keywords you might use. For example, you might start with the topic search "toxic masculinity" but be disappointed with the results. Exploring the keywords that display after the abstracts of some articles, you'll discover the phrase "hegemonic masculinities." Run the search again for hegemon* AND masculin*  and you'll get more results (Why use the *? because the * stands in for any number of letters, so you'll get masculine, masculinity, masculinities, etc., all in one search).

When the results are too broad, focus your search by adding terms found among the keywords. For example, to a main search topic like childbirth, you could add the additional terms such as (trauma OR "posttraumatic stress disorder").

Sorting. Look at the top of the results page in Web of Science to see the sorting options.  The default result is sorted by date, which may bring a very recent but irrelevant article to the top of the list. Try sorting by Relevance (the frequency of your search terms in the article), Times Cited (the ones most cited in the literature - tends towards older articles) or by Usage Count to see different top results.

Refine by Category. Sometimes it is helpful to refine searches by disciplinary categories. In the childbirth example, there will be articles about physical trauma from a medical point of view. A researcher who is only interested in how social science addresses the topic would limit to categories related to psychology, psychiatry and social work.:

  • Look on the left column of the search results page to see the WoS Categories with the most results. 
  • Click "more options / values..." to see the full list
  • Sort the list alphabetically (it defaults to 'record count')
  • Check the relevant categories and press "refine" to limit the results to those categories.

Get Full Text. Click on a title to see the abstract or other relevant information.  When you have decided you want to read the article, click on the link for EMU FindText+ to be bridged over to a database that holds the article. For more on locating full text, see the guide in the box below.

Get full text (separate guide)

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