Skip to Main Content

Biology: Web of Science

""Database Search Help Web of Science


Access Web of Science by searching for it on the Library's Databases page or by using the following link:

University of Waterloo Logo

When to use a citation index

Articles that cite your article can be relevant to your research. Discover how a known idea or innovation has been confirmed, applied, improved, extended, or corrected.  The following databases allow citation searching: 

Connect with the Librarian

Looking for a demo/walk-through of Web of Science? Book office hours with me and we can go over your topic and take a look at the database.

Brie McConnell, MLIS
Liaison Librarian 

Database overview

Web of Science is Clarivate’s abstract and citation database, and includes records from 5 different database indexes which you can search individually or simultaneously using a single interface:

  1. Web of Science Core Collection
  2. KCI-Korean Journal Database
  4. Russian Science Citation Index
  5. SciELO Citation Index

Web of Science does not contain full text articles, but instead connects you to the full-text through your institution’s library or Google Scholar. Content available through Web of Science includes articles, conference proceedings, and some book records covering subjects in health, the physical sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. Web of Science also includes an excellent selection of optometric and ophthalmic peer-reviewed literature.

If you are considering conducting any type of formal review (ie. systematic, narrative, scoping, etc.), you will want to consider exploring Web of Science. Outlined below are some useful features that will help you make the most out of your search - save yourself time and get relevant results.

Note: Web of Science is getting an update! As the New Web of Science is rolled out, you can choose between using the New or the Classic interface. As the New interface is developed more features become available, meaning there may be some Classic Web of Science features that aren't available in the New version yet, or New features that aren't available in the Classic version. If you're having trouble getting something to work, try it in the other version to see if it works there!

Search features

Default database set to Web of Science Core Collection. Default search field set to Topic.

So before you start exploring, let's take a look at the default functions that Web of Science performs automatically, and if necessary, the overrides you can use to get around them:

Defaults Examples and Overrides
The default database in Web of Science is set to the Web of Science Core Collection, which means your search terms will only be searched in this set of indexes. You can override this default by changing the database in the drop-down menu. Choose one of the other available indexes or select ALL DATABASES to search all of the available indexes at once.

The default search field in the Classic Web of Science is Topic (TS), which searches a record's title, abstract, and keywords for your search terms.

The default search field in the New Web of Science is All Fields (ALL) which searches anywhere in the record.

You can override this default by changing the search field in the drop-down menu, or add a second search field using the "Add row" button. Other search fields you could use include Title, Author, Publication Name, and many more!

Web of Science is case INSENSITIVE 

Example: McConnell is interpreted as mcconnell
Accented characters will work with and without the accent.  Example: deçà and deca will return the same results

Lemmatization: A term similar to truncation, this means that Web of Science will automatically find the singular and plural variants of words.

Example: narrow and narrower; cornea and corneal; lens and lenses

Override with an exact phrase search " "  Placing a word or phrase within quotation marks (" ") turns off lemmatization and only searches for exactly what has been entered.

Equivalencies: Web of Science will automatically find the equivalent spelling of a word in Topic and Title searches.

Example: color and colour; sterilization and sterilisation; anesthesia and anaesthesia

Override with an exact phrase search " "  Like lemmatization, placing a word or phrase within quotation marks (" ") turns off equivalencies.

Stop Words: The current version of Web of Science does not remove stop words (common connecting words like a, an, of, in, etc.) from your search. Example: women in optometry will be searched exactly as it is entered, including the word 'in'
Punctuation: Hyphens (-), apostrophes ('), and ampersands (&), are treated as spaces in a Web of Science search. Example: tele-health will be searched as tele health
Symbols: Greek symbols (β, γ, ω, etc.) are not recognized in a Web of Science search. Override: To create a search using a greek character, use the full word rather than the symbol. For example, instead of searching for β1 you would search for beta1.

"""Exact phrase" vs individual words

This is a KEY distinction to understand before you search. If you do not use the double quotation marks, or specify a Boolean operator (AND, OR, NOT) between two words, then Web of Science will automatically add an AND between the two words, which could potentially give you hundreds to thousands of results that you don't need. 

Example: a search of light sensitivity is interpreted as (light AND sensitivity). So your results are going to include the abstracts of
ANY record that has the word light AND sensitivity in the text. 
Without quotations:137,288 search results for light sensitivity without quotations
Tip: Use the double quotation marks to search for the phrase
"light sensitivity" and you will only get records that use this phrase. Right away, you've just trimmed over 133,000 irrelevant results!

With "quotations"4,263 search results for light sensitivity in quotations

Other Features of an "Exact Phrase" Search

When you place a phrase like "light sensitivity" in double quotations, this tells Web of Science to treat this as an exact phrase which means that the words must be searched together exactly as they are. Web of Science will not apply any lemmatization or search for equivalent terms in an exact phrase search; however, you can still use wildcards with these searches.

Example: a search for "light sensitivity" would not return results that included light sensitive.

So be careful with exact phrase searching, as this may be too limiting at times. 

The wildcards: * ? and $

You can use a wildcard for any word or "exact phrase" when you're unsure of the spelling, or would like to account for multiple spelling variations. 

Wildcard Example
* represents any number of characters, including zero

comput* returns results for computer, computers, compute, computerize and computerization

"*adrenergic agents" returns realists for β-adrenergic agents and α-adrenergic agents

? represents any single character wom?n returns results for both woman and wome
$ represents zero or one character colo$r returns results for cases where there is one character in that position (colour) and cases where there is no character in that position (color).
Using multiple wildcards at once organi?ation* returns results for organization, organizational,organizations, and organisation, organisational, and organisations.

Use proximity operators to find words that are near one another

Proximity operators are powerful advanced search features in Web of Science, that can really elevate your search. However, these features can take practice to work with, so if you find yourself running into trouble, please connect with me. You will NOT need to use proximity operators in every search -- it just depends on your topic and scope. 

Proximity operator Example
Near (NEAR/n): These words must be no more than (number) apart from one another.
(The word order doesn't matter)

Typing "light sensitivity" NEAR/5 cause* into the search box, and you will be retrieving all the abstracts where a variation of cause is within 5 words (either before or after) of the phrase "light sensitivity."


Search results show caused and causes appearing near light sensitivity

Same address (SAME): This operator can be used in address searches to indicate that search terms appear in the same address.

Typing McGill SAME Quebec SAME Canada will find records that list McGill, Quebec, and Canada in the address field.


*Remember* Web of Science always interprets the words NEAR and SAME as proximity operators.
If you want to run a search using these words and do not want them treated as proximity operators, you must place them in quotation marks.

For example:  testing "near" vision returns results that use these three terms but testing near vision will return results where testing is within 15 words of vision.

Exporting results

Web of Science allows you to export lists of your results, either directly from the search results list, or from your 'Marked List.' You can also export results and documents individually from Web of Science, either as a file or directly to a reference manager, such EndNote or Refworks.

In the New Web of Science you can export as these file types:

  • EndNote Desktop or Online - Export the document to your EndNote library via the EndNote desktop or online applications.
  • Plain Text - Export a plain text document.
  • RIS format - Export to other reference management applications including Reference Manager, ProCite, and RefWorks.
  • Excel - Export a comma separated file that you can open in Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet tools, like Google Sheets.
  • FECYT CVN - Export to a PDF file that uses the formatting of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology Curriculum Vitae.

In Classic Web of Science you can export as these file types:

  • EndNote Desktop or Online - Export the document to your EndNote library via the EndNote desktop or online applications.
  • Refworks - Export the document directly to your RefWorks personal database.
  • BibTeX format - Export a document to a LaTeX environment or for use with Bibshare in Microsoft Word.
  • Other file formats - Export to HTML, Plain text, Tab-delimited (Win or Mac), or Tab-delimited UTF-8 (Win or Mac) formats.
  • Print or Email - Print or email the record to yourself.