PsycINFO Expert Tip: Updating Search Alerts When a Thesaurus Term Changes

The Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms®, which is used to tag and categorize records in PsycINFO®, was updated in December 2015. In addition to adding terms, we changed five terms that had already been a part of the Thesaurus – they are no longer Index Terms, but have been turned into Use references.

Here are the terms that were changed, along with the new Index Terms that have taken their places:

Terms that are now Use references New Index Terms to search
Aspergers Syndrome
Pervasive Developmental Disorders
 Autism Spectrum Disorders
Complications (Disorders) Sequelae
Q Sort Testing Technique Q-Sort

A Use reference is a Thesaurus entry that is not used to tag records (for more information about Use references, see our post about the Thesaurus update). Below is an example of what you’ll see on APA PsycNET® when you search the Thesaurus for one of these terms:

The Thesaurus entry for "Q Sort Testing Technique," which is now a Use reference.

The Thesaurus entry for “Q Sort Testing Technique,” which is now a Use reference.

Now you know that the term we use to tag records about this technique is Q-Sort, so you can make the correct selection and search using the newest vocabulary.

But what if you have a search alert set up using one of the old terms, such as Aspergers Syndrome? Because the term is no longer used to tag articles being added to PsycINFO, your alert will no longer return results, or will return fewer results.

There are two ways to update your search alert. One is to simply recreate the search using the new term, and set it up as a new alert. This is a quick and easy method to use if your search isn’t too complex.

For more complex searches, you may want to edit the search alert. We have put together a set of slides that demonstrate how to edit a search alert on APA PsycNET, EBSCOhost, Ovid and ProQuest. If you are affiliated with a college or university, you can ask a librarian for assistance with this process. Subscribers to APA PsycNET Gold, Gold Plus, and Platinum packages can contact APA Databases & Electronic Resources Customer Relations at or 800-374-2722.

In a follow up to this post, we’ll show you how you can create a search that will help you find the items you missed during the time that passed between the update to the Thesaurus and the day you changed your search alert.

Related Resources:

More information on creating and editing search alerts:

Alison K. Cody, MSLIS

I'm the Manager of Customer Support for APA's Databases & Electronic Resources, and a former academic reference & instruction librarian.


  1. Do the ‘use terms’ have any other function, besides helping me as a searcher to find inspiration for related terms (in my title and abstract field search)? Do they help you as an indexer (maybe automatically?) or does the psycinfo ‘map’ a use term onto a subject heading? (Probably not, since your advice is to update alerts)

    • The Use terms are primarily intended to help people find the actual Index Term when they’re searching the Thesaurus, but as you say they’re also a great source of inspiration for terms to use in title and abstract searches as well.

      None of the interfaces that PsycINFO is available on (APA PsycNET, EBSCOhost, Ovid, and ProQuest) are structured in such a way that a search for a Use reference is automatically mapped to the correct Index Term. The exception, of course, is when you’re searching the Thesaurus itself to try to identify a term.

      What we do when we change an Index Term is go back and update all of the records that are indexed with that old term. So for example, a search of the Index Term field for “Q Sort Testing Technique” does not return any results, because all of the old records have been updated to use the new term, Q-Sort. This way, you don’t have to worry about searching for both the old and new Index Terms – a search using the current Index Term for your concept will bring back everything.

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