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Searching Ovid Databases

A guide to searching the Ovid platform.

The advanced search option allows you to construction a line by line search using keywords and subject headings, and advanced search techniques, then combine them to create a powerful advanced search strategy. 

Searching with Subject Headings

Subject headings are words or short phrases that are added to the records of every item in the database. Subject headings use a ‘controlled language’ such as MeSH, meaning there is only one word or phrase used to describe a specific concept.

In theory, this means that every reference discussing anxiety, for example, will have a subject heading related to anxiety. Searching using subject headings will retrieve references on a topic regardless of the wording used by individual authors.

Using the Explode and/or Focus functions with your subject headings may give your search results more relevance. Always search for each concept of your search one at a time. It will give you greater flexibility when combining your search lines. 

  1. In Advanced Search, leave the Map Term to Subject Heading box ticked (it will be ticked by default). Enter your search term and click the Search button.

advanced search screenshot

  1. This will take you to a display of suggested subject headings that match your search term. Find the heading that best matches the concept, and click on it to reveal broader and narrower subject headings. This may help you to find similar headings, and will help you to decide whether or not to explode and/or focus. 

subject headings selection screenshot

The final entry in the list offers the chance to do a simple keyword search, instead of, or in combination with, the subject headings. As this entry is not a subject heading, it has no Explode, Focus or Scope options. 

Top tip: The Scope notes for your chosen subject heading may be helpful in finding related terms. 

Once you have found a subject heading you have the option to Explode the heading(s), Focus the heading(s) or both.

  • Explode includes your selected subject heading and all of the Narrower Terms below the heading. This will increase the number of results by including references related to relevant sub-topics.
  • Focus retrieves references that have this subject heading as their main topic. This will find fewer results, but with higher relevance.
  • Both – you can select both options to include a wider range of headings (explode), but only when they are the main topic of the article (focus).
  1. Select the desired option (Explore, Focus or both):

  1. Click the continue button (located at the top of the page). Depending on your selections you may be taken to a list of Subheadings. Clicking continue without selecting any subheadings will automatically include all references that have your chosen subject headings. Choosing any subheadings excludes any references that have no subheadings at all, as well as potentially relevant references with different subheadings.

  1. Clicking Continue will take you back to the search screen, where your search line will be listed in the Search History:

Top tip: Click the expand button to the right to see your entire search history. Handy if you have more than 5 search lines!

Searching with Keywords

Keyword searching is where you choose terms for your search concepts, and search for those words within different fields, such as the title or abstract. It is a good idea to search for each of your concepts using keywords as well as subject headings. This ensures you find more results relevant to your question.

  1. Start by typing your word(s) or phrase(s) into the search box. If you have more than one word / phrase for your concept, separate them with OR and put them in brackets. For example (teenager OR adolescent).
  2. Complete this process for each of your search concepts. Your search line will then be listed in the Search History

keyword search example

In advanced search you have the option to select which fields are search should you wish to. View a list of the available fields and their search codes in the Search Fields tab. For example: 

  • Type .mp. after your search term(s) e.g. late-onset*.mp.

This will search for references where your words appear in several specific fields, including the title, abstract, subject heading, author keywords, and more. This is a broad search, normally finding a large number of results. 

  • Type .ti. after your search term(s) e.g. late-onset*.ti.

This will search for references where your words appear in the title only. This is a very specific search that will find fewer but highly relevant results. 

If you do not specify a field, most Ovid databases will default to a search in the title, abstract and keywords fields (indicated by the search code .mp.).

  • Phrase searching 

Ovid automatically searches for multiple words as a phrase, therefore you don't need to add "quote marks"  – e.g. type social anxiety to search for the exact phrase “social anxiety” (where the two words appear next to each other and in the order that you typed them). To search for multiple words but not as a phrase, you should type AND in between the words.

  • Proximity searching

 ADJn finds two words within n words of each other and in any order – cancer ADJ3 colon would find these two words where they are within three words of each other, such as colon cancer or cancer of the colon. 

  • Truncation and wildcards

When you are searching for a keyword search truncation instructs the database that it should search for the root of the word you have typed in and then retrieve any alternate endings. This is useful for searching for plurals without having to type out both the singular and plural in your search, but will find also find any other alternative endings (some of which may not be relevant to your topic).

E.g. therap* will retrieve therapy, therapies, therapeutic, therapist and therapists

       disease* will retrieve diseases, diseased etc. 

Use # inside or at the end of a word to replace exactly one character, e.g. wom#n for women and woman.

Use ? inside or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character e.g.  flavo?r for flavor OR flavour, but not flavours.

Operators can be combined, e.g. an?emi* for anaemia OR anemia OR anaemic OR anemic

The help section on Ovid provides extensive guidance on all aspects of using and searching the platform. 

Combining Search Terms

Combine your search terms using the Boolean operators AND or OR to make a final set of results on your topic.

  1. First, combine subject headings, synonyms, alternative spellings, etc. relating to the same concept with OR to find references where any of these related terms are present. For example mindfulness OR MBCT. Select the search lines to combine by ticking the relevant boxes and then click the OR button:

Combining search with OR screenshot

  1. Your combined search will then appear as a new line in your search history:

OR search results screenshot

  1. Once you have combined the various related terms for each concept with OR, combine the different concepts of your search with AND to find references where both / all concepts are present. Select the search lines to combine by ticking the boxes, then click on the AND button:

AND search combination screenshot

  1. Your combined search will appear as a new line in your search history:

AND and OR search combination results screenshot

Deleting search statements:

This is useful if you want to tidy up a search history, especially if you want to save it for future use. In Search History, select the results sets you wish to delete, then click on Remove Selected.

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