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How to search: ProQuest Advanced Searching

This guide will show you how to search in the different Unisa Library resources to find relevant information for your research needs

Request a Literature Search

Need sources for your literature review? Struggling to find sources for your assignment, research proposal or thesis?

The Library can assist with a literature search, which is a systematic and comprehensive search for published, academic material on your specific subject/topic. How do you request one? Simply go to Request a literature search .

If you are experiencing problems accessing the form, please use this link


ProQuest is a multi-disciplinary database with extensive coverage from the world’s most authoritative publishers features deep indexing, specialized thesauri, and controlled vocabulary for better insight and the ability to stay both current and compliant.

Using the Advanced Searching tips to build a search

Operators, fields, and special characters

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

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. 

Used alone, NEAR defaults to NEAR/4. Important to know: When you shorten NEAR to N, you must provide a number. For example, internet N/3 media. If you search on internet N media, ProQuest interprets N as a search term, rather than as a proximity operator.

nursing NEAR/3 education media N/3 women
PRE/n or P/n or -

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. 

A hyphen (-) joining two terms within a search is equivalent to PRE/0 or P/0.

nursing PRE/4 education shares P/4 technologies nursing-education

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".

Important to know: EXACT is not included in the 'operator precedence' list shown above. Unlike the operators listed there—like AND or PRE—EXACT is neither a Boolean or a Proximity operator. EXACT simply allows you to specify with precision occurrences of an 'exact' term, without returning occurrences of multiple-word terms that include your search terms.  

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.

Important to know: LNK is not included in the 'operator precedence' list shown above. Unlike the operators listed there—like AND or PRE—LNK is neither a Boolean or a Proximity operator. LNK enables you to specify precise relationships between qualifiers and terms in your search query.

MESH(descriptor LNK qualifier)

MESH("aspirin" LNK "adverse effects")

MESH("aspirin -- adverse effects")


IND("dry eye") LNK RG(Canada)

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

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.

? 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
sm?th Finds: smith and smyth
ad??? Finds: added, adult, adopt

Truncation character (*) - retrieves variations of the search term. Use the truncation character at the beginning (left-hand truncation), the end (right-hand truncation) or in the middle of search terms. Each truncated word can return up to 500 word variations.

Standard truncation (*) retrieves variations on the search term, replacing up to 10 characters.

Defined truncation ([*n] or $n) replaces up to the number of characters specified, for example [*50]. The maximum number of characters that can be entered is 125.

nurse* Finds: nurse, nurses, nursed
colo*r Finds: colour, color
*old Finds: told, household, bold


Finds: upbeat, downbeat, offbeat, heartbeat 

Important to know: Any terms retrieved using either truncation (*) or wildcard (?) characters are not considered when sorting your results based on relevance. That's because there is no way for ProQuest to assess the relevance of these terms to your research. For example, your search for 'bio*' could return occurrences of any or all of these terms: 'bionic' or 'biosynthesis' or 'biodegrade' or 'biographic.' One, some, all, or none could be relevant to your research.
$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