Advanced searches

Learn Overton’s search syntax for phrases, proximity matching, searching specific fields and boolean queries

Simple keyword searches in Overton will return all of the documents containing those words, and you can then use the filters on the left hand side of the search pages to make your search more precise.

However, Overton also supports more complex queries using boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT), searches within specific fields and more.

Looking for phrases

By default search strings are broken up into words and each one is searched for separately, so

income tax

will find all documents that contain both income and tax, even if they’re not next to each other (for example you’ll match the phrase “income from tax was high last year“).

To look for a phrase rather than individual words put it in quotes i.e.

"income tax"

Boolean operators

You can craft more complicated queries using AND, OR and NOT.

"covid-19" AND protection AND NOT masks

will return policy documents containing both “COVID-19” and “protection” but only if the document doesn’t also contain “masks”

You can use brackets to signify which parts of the query should match first. For example:

(("data science" or "artificial intelligence") AND "governance") OR "AI ethics"

will match documents either containing “governance” as well as “data science” or “artificial intelligence”, OR the phrase “AI ethics”

Proximity searches

To search for words occurring near each other you can use the ~N operator, where N is how many words are allowed in between each part of your phrase.

For example:

"data science"~1

will find documents containing the words “data” and “science” either next to each other or with one word between them (e.g. “science of data” “data science” “science and data” would all match, but “data indicates that science” wouldn’t)

Searching specific fields

You can find documents with titles, abstracts or (in the scholarly articles view) authors matching your search by prepending it with title:, abstract: and author: respectively.

This has to be at the start of your search query, and you can’t mix two fields or a specific field and a general search – but you can use any of the other techniques above, like phrases, proximity searches and boolean queries. So:

title:"tobacco packaging"

will find documents with the phrase “tobacco packaging” in the title (or translated title, for non-English documents)

author:"Erica Smith" OR "E Smith"

will return articles written by Erica Smith or E Smith.

The abstract search looks in both the title and the document abstract. Note that policy document don’t usually have formal abstracts in the same way that scholarly papers do and they aren’t always available.


will return documents that have the word “climate” in either their title or abstract.

Updated on November 23, 2021

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles