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Searching BIOSIS Previews at HSU

The BIOSIS Previews database is a "natural language" index augmented with additional "controlled vocabulary" that captures the broader biological concepts and relationships of each indexed paper. This sample reference shows the depth of indexing applied to each of the 20 million papers in the database.

This guide offers suggestions for constructing effective searches using a combination of natural language keywords and BIOSIS controlled vocabulary. The HSU Library provides access to the BIOSIS Previews database through Web of Knowledge and examples are specifically tailored to that interface.

BIOSIS Search Interface

Search Strategy Development

In searching BIOSIS Previews you should first develop a basic subject search strategy using the four steps that are described in the Searching the Scientific Literature research guide. Briefly these are:

Keyword and Controlled Vocabulary Selection

"Natural language" keywords and phrases you select are searched against the title, abstract, and other natural language keywords added by BIOSIS indexers. In Web of Knowlege phrases can be enclosed in " ", e.g. "Sacramento River".

"Controlled vocabulary" is taken from "authority file" lists maintained by BIOSIS. Controlled vocubulary fields have increased in number through the years as shown on the Indexing Field Availability graphic and are more fully described in BIOSIS Indexing Fields. You can use one or more of the following sources or techniques to find controlled vocabulary:

  1. BIOSIS Search Guide (ref QH 301 B373) - The main "Vocabulary Guide" lists 20,000 important biological keywords and phrases and describes how these can be searched in BIOSIS Previews. This is followed by annotated authority file lists that describe the controlled vocabulary used in BIOSIS Previews.
  2. BIOSIS Controlled Vocabulary - includes 10 controlled vocabulary lists without the annotations found in the BIOSIS Search Guide.
  3. BIOSIS Previews database search aids. Connect to BIOSIS Previews and click on the magnifying glass that appears next to most indexing fields. This will display a list of controlled vocabulary for that field along with scope notes for each entry.

  4. magnifying glass
  5. Execute a search in BIOSIS Previews and click on the titles of retrieved references to view the complete indexing for each reference. Review the controlled vocabulary used in indexing these references and re-execute your search incorporating controlled vocabulary terms you identified.
  6. Execute a search in BIOSIS Previews and use "Refine Results" to identify Major Concepts, Concept Codes, and Super Taxa.

Searching Hints

Keywords: The default "Topic" search automatically searches title, abstract and other added keywords. Enclose phrases in " ".

(toxicity or toxicology) and "metam sodium"

Word Truncation: Keywords can be truncated so that all word variations after a root word can be searched. This has the effect of increasing the number of related keywords you are searching * is used for unlimited suffix truncation -- swim* will retrieve swim, swimmers, swimming
? serves as a substitute for one character within or at the end of a word -- wom?n will retrieve woman or women
$ represents zero or one character -- behavio$r will retrieve behaviour or behavior
Concept Codes: Five digit codes and parallel keywords which represent 571 broad subject areas. Each reference is assigned one or more concept codes. Use of concept codes helps focus a search on a broader biological topic, eliminating the need for entering multiple synonymous keywords. To identify concept codes use options 1, 3, 4 or 5 above.

ecology environmental biology animal

Major Concepts: 168 keywords representing even broader biological concepts. To identify major concepts use any of the options above. metabolism
Chemicals and Biochemicals: Chemical compounds and drug names are used as they are given in each reference (natural language terms). They can be qualified with one or more 185 drug modifiers that describe their diagnostic or therapeutic actions. Drug modifiers are searched as keywords.To identify drug modifiers use options 1, 2 or 4 above. ribavirin (natural language term)
antihelminthic drug
CAS Registry Number: Composed of unique numbers assigned to every chemical compound that has been indexed in Chemical Abstracts. Use registry numbers in your search strategy for effective searching of chemical compounds rather than having to use chemical nomenclature. See How to Find CAS Registry Numbers for Chemical Compounds. 36791-04-5
Diseases: Diseases, disorders, and pathologies are used as they are given in each reference (natural language terms) and are qualified with one of 44 disease modifiers. To identify diseases use options 1, 2 or 4 above.

bacterial kidney disease (natural language term)
urologic disease

Parts, Structures, and Systems of Organisms: Organ systems and body parts are used as they are given in each reference (natural language terms) and are qualified with one of 15 organ system modifiers. To identify organ system modifiers use options 1, 2 or 4 above.

spleen (natual language term)
blood and lymphatics

Geopolitical Locations: Specific geographic locations are used as they are given in each reference (natural language terms) and are qualified with one or more of the 421 terms for state, country, continent, and zoogeographical region as appropriate, e.g., Sacramento River, California, USA, North America, Nearctic region. In this example Sacramento River is the natural language keyword and all the other keywords are added geopolitical classifiers. These classifiers allow you to search at the geographic level of interest to you. To identify geographic classifiers use options 1, 2 or 4 above. Sacramento River (natural language term)
Methods and Equipment: Natural language terms for methods, apparatus, or scientific techniques taken from the text of the reference. There is no controlled vocabulary.

allogenic marrow tranportation

Sequence Data: Composed of natural language keywords for databank accession numbers or other macromolecular sequence data and controlled keywords for sequence type. To identify sequence type modifiers use options 1, 2 or 4 above.

AF157052 (natural language term)
amino acid sequence

Organisms: Up to 20 scientific names of organisms are included for each reference. Common names are also added if given in the reference. One should search both common and scientific names for the most complete results. haliotis rufescens
red abalone
Super Taxa/Biosystematic Codes: Each reference is assigned one or more five-digit Biosystematic Codes and parallel scientific name from a list of 1,000 taxomonic classifications above the genus level. These codes allow you to search groups of organisms at higher taxonomic levels without having to enter every representative genera. In addition Super Taxa categories are also assigned to each reference as appropriate. Searching these includes all references from lower level taxonomies, e.g., with the super taxa category string Caudata: Amphibia, Vertebrata, Chordata, Animalia. you can search any of these super taxa categories and find all lower level references. To identify biosystematic codes or super taxa use any of the options above.


Taxa Notes: Each reference is assigned, as appropriate, one or more 65 taxa keywords that represent broad common/vernacular names of organisms,e.g., mammals. Taxa notes allow you to search for groups of organisms at higher taxonomic levels without having to enter every representative genera. To identify taxa notes use options 1, 2, 3 or 4 above. mammals

Sample Searches

echolocation in bats.

echolocat* and (bat or bats or chiroptera)

echolocat* and chiroptera (will search chiroptera in super taxa field)

echolocat* and bats (will search bats in taxa notes field)

asbestos toxicity to humans

asbestos* and toxicology and humans (will search for toxicology in major concept field and humans in taxa notes field)

asbestos* and toxic* and hominidae (will search for hominidae in super taxa field)

Bacterial kidney disease in salmon

kidney and bacterial disease and urologic disease and (salmon or oncorhynchus)

kidney and bacterial disease and urologic disease and (salmon or oncorhynchus) (will search for bacterial disease and urologic disease in the disease affiliation field)