Database field codes: what are they and how do I use them?

April 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm

When searching the CINAHL or Ovid MEDLINE databases, you may find that there isn’t a subject heading that precisely matches your search topic.  Sometimes your topic is so current that a subject heading hasn’t been added. For example, you’d like some articles on patient handoffs but there isn’t a subject heading to match this topic.  Or you find a subject heading that relates to your topic, but it is too broad and you end up with thousands of citations to wade through. For example you’d like some articles specifically on transformational leadership, not leadership in general.

To quickly zero in on your specific topic try using the database field codes.   Field codes are 2-letter abbreviations that let you search a specific field within the description of a database record.  For example, if you want to search for words in the titles of articles, you can use the field code, TI.  If you want to search for a specific author, you can use the field code, AU.  Both CINAHL and Ovid MEDLINE have a list of field codes that you can use in your searches.  In the CINAHL database, you can find the list of field codes on the main search page by clicking on the “Field Codes” link as shown in the screen view below:

In the Ovid MEDLINE database, you’ll see the list of field codes by clicking on the “Search Fields” link on the main search page.

Here is an example of a search using the TI [title word] field code in the CINAHL database:

Topic:  Current articles on improving patient flow. 

In the CINAHL database, I first checked to see if there was a CINAHL heading that matched the topic, patient flow.  Since there wasn’t a heading that fit this topic, I searched the TI field code.  This is what I typed in the CINAHL search box: ti patient flow

What does this mean?  In this instance the phrase “patient flow” was restricted to the titles of articles in the CINAHL database and resulted in a list of over 100 articles.  To increase the retrieval you could search for the phrase  “patient flow” in the abstracts or summaries of articles by using the AB field code: ab patient flow.

I also ran this search in the Ovid MEDLINE database.  One way to do a field code search in this database is to post qualify the search phrase using the appropriate field code: patient flow.ti

I use field codes in almost all of the searches that I do. I hope that you’ll give them a try and use them too. They are an effective way to make your searches as precise as possible.

Submitted by
Karen Larsen
Colonial Library Services

Entry filed under: What's Your Reference Question?. Tags: , , .

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