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Guide to searching

This page provides some basic information and useful tips for searching.

We also have user guides which are more detailed and which may be printed or downloaded:

CAB Direct – Simple searching
CAB Direct – Advanced searching
CAB Direct – MyCABDirect

Getting started.
The search box, present on every page of CAB Direct, provides a convenient place from which to start your search. Searches can range from a single word to a complex search query that utilizes all the features of the supported search language.

1 Simple search

Typing terms into the search box will, by default, search for records that contain your search term(s) in any of the indexed fields in a database record. This includes:

- Title: (et=English Title and ft=Non-English Title)
- Author: (au=Personal Author, av=Author Variant, ed=Editors, ad= Additional Authors and ca=Corporate Author)
- Abstract: (ab)
- Descriptors: (de)
- Organism Descriptors: (od)
- Geographic Location: (gl)
- Broad Terms: (up)
- Identifiers: (id)
- Conference Title: (ct)
- ISSN: (sn)
- ISBN: (bn)
- DOI: (oi)
- Record number: (pa)

2 Words, phrases and terms

A search query may be broken up into terms and operators.
There are two types of term: Single Word Terms and Multi-Word Phrases.

A Single Term is a single word such as cat or dog. 

Multiple words, when entered into the search box, are treated as Single Terms and combined with an "invisible" AND.

In this way, the records found by the search must, by definition, include all the searched terms.  This gives a very specific, defined result.

A Phrase
is a group of words and, to search for a specific phrase, like <cattle breeds> rather than searching for the individual word, the phrase must be surrounded by double quotes as in the example "cattle breeds".

A phrase search, like this, will give much more specific results.  A search string can be entered that contains multiple terms, both singe words and phrases, as in the example "cattle breeds" "milk production" europe.  These three terms will, by default, be combined with AND.

NB Please use straight quotes or the native version in CAB Direct, rather than smart or curly typographer's quotes which Microsoft Word defaults to, as CAB Direct ignores smart quotes.  This may be important if you are saving long search strategies in a separate document and copying this into your search box.

For greater control of your search, multiple terms can be combined together with the three Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to form a more complex query (see below).

Stemming is a particular feature of CAB Direct which is designed to optimize the number of retrieved results and to improve a searcher's chances of retrieving the correct results without necessarily knowing a great deal about CABI's indexing or advanced search techniques. It is very effective in uncovering hidden information, particularly if used in conjunction with the Most Relevant option for sorting at Search Results display.

Stemming means that words are stemmed to include plurals of words and various versions with suffixes such as "ing". In a phrase search stemming also looks for approximate matches even if words are separated by several other words or punctuation marks.

For example a search for <cat breeds> will also retrieve results with <cat breeding> <cats and breed> <cat....breed>

Stemming is applied to all searches by default unless quotation marks "   " are used to denote that a very specific result is required.

3 Boolean Searching

3.1 Mandatory

By default, terms separated by white-space will have the 'mandatory' AND operator applied to them, as explained above. This means that all retrieved records must contain all of the searched for terms.  

However, any of the three Boolean operators, AND, OR or NOT may be used, either individually or in combination, within your search.  Use of these operators offers you a greater flexibility when building your multi-term search.

3.2 AND

We have already seen the use of the AND operator which results in a more refined search.  The AND operator "narrows" the search.  As you use more ANDs the search becomes more refined and you will retrieve fewer but more relevant records.

e.g "cattle breeds" AND "milk production" and europe
All the records retrieved must contain all three search terms.

3.3 OR

The OR operator is used to broaden the search where you want to find records with just one of the words or records with some or all of the words.

The search example cattle or sheep or horses will retrieve all the records that mention just cattle, just sheep or just horses plus any records that contain two or more of the terms.  The more terms that are "ORed" together, the larger the set of search results.

3.4 NOT

You may exclude words from your search results by prefixing the word with the word 'NOT', as in cattle not housing. The NOT operator will refine your search, reducing the number of records that you retrieve.  Be careful using the NOT operator as you may lose some relevant records.

3.5 Using Multiple Operators

As an experienced searcher, you may wish to combine search terms with multiple operators, to form a more complex search.  This can be done but needs careful thought if the search is to be performed correctly.

Let us take a simple example where we are looking for records about "the housing of cattle or sheep in europe".  Let us also assume that we are not interested in records about diseases. 

The search statement might look something like <housing AND cattle OR sheep NOT diseases>.

Here we are using all three operators in a single statement but, because only one operation can be done at a time, we need to make sure that the terms are combined in the correct order.  We do this with the use of brackets (). 

The operation that we need done first is enclosed in a set of brackets.

(cattle OR sheep)

The operation that we want to perform next is then enclosed in another set of brackets.

(housing AND (sheep OR cattle))

And finally we add the last operation to the search.

(housing AND (cattle OR sheep)) NOT diseases

The search will now be performed in the correct order.  Boolean searching, as this is known, is a very powerful way of searching and will offer the best results.

4 Field searching

A typical CABI database record is made up of a number of individual data fields like the Title, the Abstract, etc.  By default, searches are performed in what is known as the "free-text" search index.  This search index comprises all the words from all the important "subject" fields plus the Author. 

A full list of the Free-Text fields is given in part 1 of this guide. 
A search of the Free-text index will retrieve the maximum number of records but, because it contains all the words from the Abstract and Title fields, the results may contain a significant proportion of less relevant records.

To refine a search, a user can "LIMIT" a search to a specific field in both the Quick Search and the Advanced Search screens. 

In the Advanced Search screen simply choose the field from the drop-down menu.

In the Quick Search box, type the Field Name, followed by a colon (:) as in the example ti:cattle.

The field is only valid for the term that it directly precedes. To group several terms together with a single field, a user may use either quotes, if searching for a phrase, or parentheses (brackets) if searching for separate words. Here are a few examples:

pb:blackwell publishing
Would match 'blackwell' in the publisher field, and 'publishing' in the Free-Text index.

pb:"blackwell publishing"
Would match the phrase 'Blackwell Publishing' in the publisher field.

pb:(blackwell publishing)
Would match 'blackwell' AND 'publishing' (in any order and proximity) in the publisher field.

The operators + and - can be prefixed to the field name e.g.
CAB Direct Fields and their Abbreviations

All the fields, in the table below, are individually searchable but some fields are more useful than others.  Some of the most useful fields are:

Title    title:cattle
Descriptors    de:fertilizers
Organism Descriptors    od:"triticm aestivum"
Geographic Location    gl:france
Broad Terms    up:europe
CABICODES    cc:kk100

There are also three  "Super Indexes" that need to be searched with full names for these fields:

Author index which searches for Personal Authors, Editors and Corporate Authors and the Author variant; search as a phrase by inserting dashes

Subject index
which searches a combination of Descriptors, Organism Descriptors, Geographic Location,  Identifiers and Broad Term.
                    subject:(cattle housing Europe)

Title index which searches for the English Title and Non-English Title

Description    Field Tag/Name

Abstract ab
Additional Authors    ad
Author Affiliation    aa
CAS Registry Numbers    ry
Conference Dates    cd
Conference Title    ct
Corporate Author    ca
Country of Publication    cp
Descriptors    de
Digital Object Identifier    oi
Document Editors    ed
Document Title    do
Email    em
English Item Title    et
Non English Item Title    ft
Geographic Location    gl
Identifiers    id
ISBN    bn
ISSN    sn
Item Type    it
Language(s) of Summary    ls
Language(s) of Text    la
Location of Publisher    lp
Main Abstract    ab
Organism Descriptors    od
Pan Number    pa
Personal Author    au
Personal Author Variants    av
Publisher    pb
CABI Product Code    sc
Up-posted Descriptors or Broad Terms   up
Web URL    ur
Year of Publication    yr

6 Other examples

6.1 Find an abstract by its unique ID

Users may search for the accession number for a particular record by specifying the Accession Number field (e.g. pa:20020293241).

6.2 Find all records in a particular product.

Fielded search can be used to retrieve all abstracts in a particular SC code.  e.g. "sc:he" will retrieve all Global Health articles.

Subject/SC Code    Product Name

CA    CAB Abstracts 1973-Current
X0    CAB Abstracts Archive
HE    Global Health 1973- Current
X9    Global Health Archive
ZS    CAB Abstracts + Global Health 1973-Current
7B    AgBiotechNet Database
ZA    Animalscience Database
ZD    Nutrition and Food Sciences Database
TR    ForestScience Current Database
XF    ForestScience Archive Database
3R    LeisureTourism Database
ZC    Organic Research Database
VE    VetMed Resource Database
ZG    Environmental Impact Database
FT    CABI Full Text
FR    CAB Reviews Current
FA    CAB Reviews Archive
FV    Distribution Maps of Plant Pests
FW    Distribution Maps of Plant Diseases
FX    Descriptions of Fungi and Bacteria
GF    CAB eBooks Current file
GA    CAB eBooks Archive file
B1    CAB eBooks Agriculture file
B2    CAB eBooks Animal&Veterinary file
B3    CAB eBooks Environment file
B4    CAB eBooks Human, Food, Nutrition file
B5    CABeBooks Leisure and Tourism
B6    CABeBooks Plant Sciences
8A    Agricultural Engineering
0E    Agricultural Entomology
7Y    Agroforestry
0A    Animal Breeding
0N    Animal Nutrition
5C    Aromatic&Medicinal Plants
7E    Biocontrol
YB    Biofuels
YA    Botanical Pesticides
7Q    Crop Physiology
0D    Dairy Science
0Q    Field Crops
1F    Forest Products
0F    Forestry
0G    Grasslands and Forage
0H    Helminthology
0C    Horticultural Science
0U    Human Nutrition
7S    Irrigation and Drainage
3R    Leisure, Recreation, Tourism
6P    Maize
0J    Medical and Veterinary Entomology
0L    Medical&Veterinary Mycology
0T    Nematology
7C    Ornamnental Horticulture
7D    Pig Science
0P    Plant Breeding
6C    Plant Genetic Resources
7W    Plant Growth Regulators
0M    Plant Pathology
7H    Postharvest Research
7K    Potatoes
7A    Poultry
0Y    Protozoology
1T    Public Health
7U    Rice
2R    Rural Development
7G    Seed Science
0S    Soils and Fertilizers
7N    Soyabeans
1C    Sugar Industry
2T    Tropical Diseases
0W   Weeds
6T    Wheat
0I    Index Veterinarius
0V    Veterinary Bulletin
VE    Veterinary Medicine
0R    World Ag.Economics and Rural Sociology

Evidence Based Filter:
Identifying systematic reviews can sometimes be difficult.  The “Evidence based research” filter under Search Refine carries out a search strategy designed to retrieve systematic reviews and meta- analyses by searching for elements in the title and abstract. Meta-analyses are included because papers containing these are often systematic reviews when the full text is examined more closely. The search strategy is available on request

We have consulted the following experts over the filter:

Douglas Grindlay of the Centre of Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine, University of Nottingham, UK
Mellanye Lackey Director, Health Sciences Library Global Engagement,Public Health Liaison Librarian
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill , NC, USA
Dr. Gillian Petrokofsky, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, UK

Searching CABDirect via Metasearch:

CABDirect provides an XML gateway for federated search connections, the CABDirect MXG handler which implements NISO Metasearch XML Gateway (MXG) level 1 protocol (   The federated search connection will support simple and complex boolean queries for any search fields in CAB Direct, including author, title, subject, abstract, keyword, publication year.

The gateway handler is for CAB Direct can be found at
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