The key to successful searching is choosing the right search terms. Rubbish in = rubbish out so it is worth taking time to get these right.
Make sure you take the time to select and develop your search terms. See Step 3 for more information on this.
The three Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT) allow you to combine search terms in different combinations.
AND narrows your search. It is usually used to combine different concepts to make results more relevant.
When you combine search terms with AND your results will have to contain all of the search terms.
AND is used for combining different concepts e.g. diet AND cancer
OR broadens and is usually used to combine synonyms or “like” words to make results more comprehensive.
It is used for finding similar words e.g. diet OR nutrition
NOT narrows by reducing the number of results you retrieve by excluding a search term.
For example: nursing NOT children.
TIP: use AND NOT when searching in Science Direct.
Truncation and wildcards are useful for finding singular and plural forms of words and variant endings.
Shorten your keyword to its "stem" or "trunk" and add the truncation symbol, usually an asterisk (*).
Nurs* finds nurse, nurses, nursing
Child* finds child, children, childhood, childbirth etc.
Be careful not to truncate your words too early. For example, a search for count* would find country as well as count, counts, counting etc.
Wildcards work in a similar way, but within a word.
The symbols can vary, but are usually *, # or ?. Check the help or search tips section of the database for more information.
You can use them, for example, to search for variant spellings:
Colo?r find colour or color
Phrase and proximity, or adjacency, searching can be used for searching for phrases and words in close proximity.
Using quotation marks searches for the phrase as a fixed string which may limit the number of results you find.
This is useful for where you have a phrase of more than one word in your search.
Pain management: will search for these two words separately, so they may both appear, but not in relation to each other. Some results may not be relevant.
"Pain management": will search for this phrase exactly.
Searches for words near to each other, but not necessarily next to each other or in a particular order. This can vary quite a bit between databases, so always check the help or search tips section in the database for more information.
Pain N2 management: Finds pain within two words of management. As word order is disregarded, this might also find management of severe pain.
Subject headings are a controlled vocabulary that a database uses to classify what an article is about. They are sometimes referred to as controlled terms or thesaurus terms. Using subject headings can improve your search results and should be used in systematic searching when possible.
Below are some extra resources for you to take a look at to learn more about the search techniques explained on this page.
Below are links to videos showing example searches in different databases.