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CHEM 184/284 (Chemical Literature) - Huber - Winter 2023: Lecture 12

A two-credit course in the techniques and tools for effective searching the literature of chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering and related fields.

ecture 12: SciFinder,/SciFinder-n Part II - Exploring References by Research Topic

Searching by Research Topic

SciFinder-n search for references opening screen


  • Searching for references by keyword in SciFinder-n is similar in many respects to searching in other scholarly databases like Web of Science. For instance:
    • You can combine terms with the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT and parentheses. Example: (oxidation OR reduction) NOT combustion
    • You can combine terms as a specific phrase using quotation marks, for esample "nuclear magnetic resonance"
    • You can use wildcard characters, asterisk * or question mark ? to generalize your searches.  For example:
      • photosynth* finds photosynthesis, photosyntheses, photocynthetic
      • alumin?um finds aluminum, aluminium
  • SciFiner-n is also capable of handling natural language phrases, such as  oxidation of secondary alcohols to ketones. SciFinder-n will automatically do truncation and insert necessary connectors. Note that the results of a natural language search may not be identical to those of an equivalent Boolean search.
  • However, there are also things which SciFinder-n does uniquely, such as:
    • In addition to titles and abstracts, keyword searches search indexer-selected keywords, CA concept headings and MeSH subject headings.
    • It automatically searches for CAS abbreviations when it encounters a word which could be abbreviated, and vice versa.
    • It automatically searches for some synonyms of common chemical terms. For example, searching for NMR will also find nuclear magnetic resonance. 
    • Most importantly, when you search a chemical name as a keyword, it will detect that it is a chemical name, and also search the CAS Registry Number for that substance, greatly increasing the comprehensiveness of the search. Each document record has in-depth substance indexing.See examples below, and more about CAS Registry Numbers in Lecture 13.

Keyword Searching Example

  • Let's say I wanted to search for the topic, electrochemistry of nickel or cobalt phthalocyanines.
  • , You mihgt enter that exact phrase, but you can also use something like this, electrochem* AND (nickel OR ccobalt) AND phthalocyan*, using either the Boolean operators, and parentheses to group the terms.
  • Note below how, as I start to type the phrase, SciFinder-n provides a drop-down autocomplete list of possiber terms.

SciFinder-n autocomplete example

  • The list of terms suggests strongly that I might want to use the asterisk wildcard to get all the terms starting with electrochem*
  • Here's the completed search phrase:

SciFinder-n reference search on electrochmistry of phthalocyanines


  •  Now I click the Search icon and obtain the initial results set below.

SciFinder-n reference search results, electrochemistry of phthalocyanines, part 1

SciFinder-n reference results, electrochemistry of phthalocyanines, part 2

SciFinder-n reference search results for electrochemistry of phthalocyanines, part 3

SciFinder-n results for referencesearch of electrochemistry of phthalocyanines, part 4

SciFinder-n results for reference search of electrochemistry of phthalocyanines, part 5

  • Note the following points about the reference answer set display above:
    • Search terms are highlighted..
    • SciFinder-n has retrieved a large answer set BUT note at the upper left that it has not displayed the full answer set. The "most relevant" answer set is 2,094 answers. If I click on the Load More Reults button, it goes to 2,362.
    • SciFinder-n expects that the user will get large answer sets, and use the Relevance sort, and the Filter options to fome in on the desired answers.
    • Note that a new Filter option has appeared: Substance Role  This is because we have searched on one or more chemical substance terms. In the drop-down list, only roles pertaining to the substances which we searched on appear, and the numbers reflect how many answers have each role. Note, too, that a substance may be assigned more than one role in a given document record. Note that the substance roles displayed in the left-hand column are broad roles, e.g. Uses. If you click on the View All link the table of roles will include more specific roles, e.g. Analytical Reagent Use.
    • Besides Substance Role, other relevant filters have appeared that we didn't see in the Author search (Lecture 11). Notice:
      • CAS Solutions - Shows which records also appear in CAS Analytical Methods and Formulus.
      • Formulation Purpose - Shows purposeses in formulations for the substances found, such as Coating materials and Drug delivery systems.
    • Below is the Concepts filter table for this answer set. This is a powerful refinement tool for my search

SciFinder-n keyword search results concepts table

  • Note how, unsurprisingly, there are many "electrochem" terms among the most common concepts.
  • Note, too, how you may find related terms that you might want to consider to broaden or refocus your search, like cyclic voltammetry (an electrochemical technique) and metallaphthalocyanines.
  • You may select as many of the concept headings as you like, then click the Apply button to filter your results to just those documents that have those concepts in their indexing. You may use the Search tab to help find relevant concepts when you have a long list. See example below. In this case, I searched electro* and then clicked the Select All on Page box to select them all at once.

SciFinder-n keyword search results search of theconcepts table


  • After applying, the Searched concepts above, and applying the Substance Role, Analytical Study, my answer set is narrowed to 261 answers. Below is the full document record for one of the answers.

SciFinder-n reference detail from keyword search, part 1

SciFinder-n reference detail from keyword search, part 2

SciFinder-n reference detail from keyword search, part 3

SciFinder-n reference detail from keyword search, part 4

SciFinder-n reference detail from keyword search, part 5

  • Note that all the keywords searched are highlighted, in title, abstract,keywords, concept headings and substance records.
  • Note that in the substance records, the roles for each substance as they are given in the document appear. Note also, that both the general roles that appear in the Filers list (such as Analytical Study) and more specific roles appear. These more specific roles cannot be used to filter in SciFinder-n (yet) though they can be used in STN.
  • Note that Metallopthalocyanines is highlighted in the concept headings, even though we didn't search it directly, SciFinder-n's built-in "smarts" searched for it anyway. Also note, that since it is a class of compounds, stubstance roles are applied to it as well as to specific substances.

CAS Lexicon

As mentioned in Lecture 10, CAS has taken the full list of CA Concept Headings and organized them in a hierarchical fashion, so that you can easily identify broader, narrower and related terms for your search.  

Let's say that I'm undertaking the same search that I did above, but want to use the CAS Lexicon to enhance my search. Starting with electrochemistry:

Clicking on Launch CAS Lexicon brings us to this screen"

SciFinder-n CAS Lexicon opening screen

As I type in electrochemistry, a drop-down menu of terms appears. Selecting electrochemistry and clicking Search Concept, I get:a scrollable list of possible preferred terms, from which I must select one.

SciFinder-n CAS Lexicon, search electrochemistry, step 1

Selecting Electrochemistry, I get a scrollable menu of broader, narrower and related terms, from which I may select the ones to add to my query, with Add Terms

SciFinder-n CAS Lexicon on electrochemistry, step 2

Note that I can clear terms from the query and redo them. When I'm ready, I click the search icon.

SciFinder-n CAS Lexicon results for electrochemistry search.

If I now wanted to use the Lexicon to explore tother terms, like phthalocyanine, I might wish to save my electrochmistry answer set (or selected portions thereof) so that I could later combine it with a phthalocyanine search.  Alternatively, I could just use the Lexicon to suggest aterntive terms, and enter them by hand into a keyword search.

© 2023 Charles F. Huber

Creative Commons License
This work by Charles F. Huber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Screenshots of SciFinder-n are copyright © 2023 American Chemical Society and are used under fair use for educational purposes only.

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