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Psychology: DClin systematic literature searching: 5. Selecting and searching databases

This tutorial will guide you through the steps required to systematically search for literature for your service-related project and thesis.

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Need a recap on how to access and search library resources? Check out this introductory guide

To undertake an extensive search and explore your research question fully you should expect to search a number of different databases (usually three to five). Each should be searched separately.

As controlled vocabulary and functionality varies between databases you will have to modify your search strategy for each one, whilst trying to be as consistent as possible.

Once you have run your search on one key database, the idea is to apply the same search as closely as possible to each of your other databases.

Additional ways to find relevant articles:


  • Citation searching: examine references of key articles and look at who has subsequently cited it. 
  • Checking publication lists of key authors and / or journals. 
  • Contacting key authors or posting on relevant discussion groups. What articles do they recommend?  
  • Hand searching: choose a few eminent journals / conference proceedings to browse for any pertinent articles relevant to your research.

PubMed Vs. Medline Ovid

What is the difference between Medline (PubMed) and Medline Ovid? 

PubMed is an interface used to search Medline, as well as additional biomedical content. Medline Ovid is an interface for searching only Medline content, allowing you to perform a more focused search. PubMed is more user- friendly and allows you to search through more content than Medline Ovid.

Each database covers a different range of sources, content (some are subject specific, others more general) and timeframes. The databases selected will be influenced by your topic and its research focus. You are likely to search APA PsycINFO (via Ovid) and Medline (PubMed) for most psychological research. However, you may then chose to select a specialist database relevant to your topic such as EMBASE for pharmacological interventions, CINAHL (via EBSCO) for wider healthcare or PILOTS for traumatic stress disorders. Or an interdisciplinary database such as Web of Science if you need to expand your research. You should explore the Psychology A-Z database listing to review the databases available before making your selection.

Database Searching

Database interfaces will all vary, and they may use different terminology. However, they all have similar features. Once you are familiar with these, you'll be able to find your way around different databases. You can see the main features in the examples below.

This is what a standard database interface looks like:

Once you click the Search button, the results page appears:

Use the limiter / filter options to help focus your results to the most relevant materials. Typical database filters include: 

  • Publication date: Limit results to those published in a relevant date range.
  • Source type: Filter results by type; e.g. academic journal, conference paper, report, thesis etc.
  • Publication title: View results from specific publication.
  • Subject: Filter results by associated subject 'tags'.

For in depth guidance explore the Web of Science learning siteYouTube Videos or the Web of Science LibGuide.

Ovid is an advanced search platform allowing you to perform sophisticated literature searches. The Ovid platform provides access to a number of different research databases. It is good practice to search each database individually (searching multiple databases will cause you more problems than it's worth!). Searching more than one database at a time will disable the thesaurus feature and is not advisable for comprehensive systematic searching.

Once you have selected the database you wish to search you will see there are a number of different types of search options available, each allows you to perform a different type of search. You should use multi-field or advanced search for a comprehensive systematic search. The information below provide a quick introduction, for in depth guidance on searching Ovid explore the Searching Ovid LibGuide.

Top Tips

  • Only search one database at a time (even if there is an option to search more)! E.g. DO NOT select more than one Ovid database to search at a time.
  • Note down which search option you are using e.g. multi-field or advanced search, the search fields / settings can be different and this can impact on your results. 
  • Check the databases help section to see the advanced search options available. This will help you to decide which search techniques to use. These do vary between databases!  
  • If phrase searching is too restrictive you may wish to use proximity searching instead. E.g. the ADJ function. 
  • If you have already found or know about an article that perfectly matches your topic, it can be very effective to look at the terms used in their title, abstract or keywords and apply them to your own search strategy. This will help you to locate more articles like it.
  • Only search one database at a time, use the change / re-run your search option to quickly run your search in another Ovid database.
  • Most databases use double quotation marks "...." to ensure that keywords are searched as a phrase. In Ovid phrase searching is the default, therefore, you will see no difference in the search results by using quotation marks in your search.
  • In the multi-field search option you can only search title and abstract separately. i.e. there is no title / abstract field. 
  • In advanced search you can run a title / abstract search by manually entering the search codes after your keyword  e.g. diabetes.ti,ab.

Note: You will need to add a full stop following your keywords and separate multiple field codes by using a comma. Once you have entered all of the field codes that you want to search, finish by adding a final full stop. 

  • If you are searching Ovid databases it is strongly recommended you explore the Searching Ovid LibGuide. It contains lots of information that will make your life easier!!

If a known article is not appearing in your search results check the following: 

  • What terms did the author use in the title, abstract and keywords?
  • What controlled vocabulary terms (i.e. subject headings) did the database assign to the article? 
  • Have you used these terms in your search? If not consider revising your search strategy e.g. adding the missing terms, and re-running your search. 
  • Check the journal is indexed in the database you are searching in. 

Cited Reference Search

  1. In Google Scholar search for the text you are interested in e.g. ‘Kendall child and adolescent therapy: cognitive-behavioral procedures’.
  2. Under the entry for that text, follow the ‘Cited by [number of citations]’ link.
  3. This presents you with a list of other texts that have cited the text you specified for you to explore.



In Web of Science there is cited references search option. To run a search you need to:

  1. Enter the first author’s name in the Cited Author field e.g. Achille M

  2. Enter a journal or book title in the Cited Work field e.g. Journal of child and family studies

  3. Entering a year is optional. If you get too many results, enter the year(s) to refine relevant records.e.g. 2016

  1. Click search and you will retrieve a list of potential matches.

  2. Select the relevant reference and click finish search to go to the results page.

  3. The Times Cited and Cited References will then appear in the Citation Network box. Click to explore further citations.


*** New feature *** Enriched Cited References 

The feature provides additional context that is designed to capture the author's intent when citing references in the body of their article including: 

  • How many times a reference was cited within the article to help you assess how impactful it was to the author,
  • What references are cited in proximity to help you know which references are most related, 
  • Where in the body of the article it was coted so that you know why the reference might have been citied. 

This feature has only been applied to recent records, therefore, it is not available for all content on Web of Science. 

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