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Medical Sciences: Finding literature for assignments: 2. Searching effectively

Online tutorial introducing you to the skills and techniques needed for effective library research

To get relevant search results you need to have a search strategy. Search engines and databases don't understand the details of your search topic, so you'll need to prepare a strategy to make sure that you identify all the relevant information on your topic. Having a strategy will also help you recall a manageable number of relevant search results.

Planning a search strategy is a three step process:

1. Identify search terms and any alternative terms for your key concepts

2. Combine your search terms

3. Use search techniques to enhance your search 


Watch the two videos below on identifying and combining keywords and take a look at the search tips you could use if you are getting too many, or two few results. Complete the quiz to check your learning.


Before you start searching, spend some time defining your research topic. Ask yourself, what is it that you want to find out? What search terms or keywords will find this information? Are there any similar terms that you can search on too to help you get more results?

Use whatever technique works best for you - e.g. brainstorming, words lists or mind maps etc. can help you think around your topic and identify all possible search concepts and terms. 

Take a look at the short video to help you begin:

It is possible to use a number of different keywords in a single search, by using operators.

The three most commonly used operators are ANDORNOT.  These are known as Boolean operators. They can be used to broaden or narrow a search and to exclude unwanted concepts.

Watch the video to find out how to use these operators.


Search tips: improving your results


Use these tips to help improve your searching. By applying these techniques, you can increase or reduce the number of search results, making it easier to access the right materials.

Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.

The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

The asterisk * symbol is most commonly used for truncation. However, check out the help screens as  !, ?, or # may also be used.

For example:

isolat* will find isolation, isolated, isolate etc.

child* will find child, childrenchildlikechildhood etc.

Use it with care to avoid finding too many alternatives.

Wildcards are similar to truncation but they are used to substitute for a single letter or no letter in a word.

They are useful for irregular plurals and for British/American English spellings.

They broaden your search by including variant word spellings.

The question mark symbol is most commonly used. However, check out the help screens as  ! , *, or # may also be used. 

For example:

wom?n will find woman and women

optimi?ation will find optimisation and optimization

model?ing will find modeling and modelling

Phrase searching is the most limiting technique as it is used to specify that your terms must appear next to each other, and in the order you specify.

Phrase searching is commonly achieved by surrounding your phrase with quotation marks.

Always check the database help guides, as some databases may use different symbols.

Phrase searching examples:

"White blood cells"

"B cell development"

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