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Health Subject Guide — Develop Search Strategies

Research Guide for Health, including Allied Health and Nursing

Develop Search Strategies

Uset these simple commands (Boolean Operators) to search for your keywords and subject headings.


Database Commands (Boolean Operators)

  • OR finds citations with any of the terms (stress OR anxiety). OR is important because authors use all sorts of different words to describe the same thing. Also, databases only find the exact words you type. If you type anxiety, a database will not find anxieties or anxious.
  • AND finds citations with all of the terms (stress AND students)
  • NOT eliminates citations that use the terms (stress NOT alcohol)
  • asterisk (*) includes suffixes (stress* will find stress, stressor, and stressors)
  • quotation marks ensure adjacent words are searched as a phrase ("alcohol consumption" OR "drinking behavior")

Do not enter sentences or long phrases into databases. These confuse databases and you will not get accurate results

Most databases provide multiple text boxes. Enter one topic per box. 

Ex. Find citations about stress and college students that do not pertain to alcohol consumption

(stress* OR anxiety OR cortisol OR epinephrine) AND (college* OR universit* AND student* OR undergraduate*) NOT (alcohol OR "drinking behavior")

PubMed requires parentheses. Enter one topic per parentheses.

Ex. (stress* OR anxiety OR cortisol OR epinephrine) AND (college* OR universit*) AND (student* OR undergraduate*) NOT (alcohol OR "drinking behavior")

Checklist for Good Searches

  • Proper syntax is used (see Develop Search Strategies above)
  • Each concept is in its own text box, or parentheses if you are searching PubMed​​
  • Words that indicate relationships between variables (improve, decrease, benefit, etc) are omitted
  • Phrases are in quotes
  • Quotes are NOT used to tie together words an author could split
    • E.g. Do not use quotes for “college students”, as an author could say “students in college"
  • All term variants are included:
    • Term endings (e.g. college OR colleges). Use the asterisks to truncate (e.g. college*) with caution
    • Alternate terms (e.g. stress OR anxiety OR cortisol OR epinephrine)
    • Specific types of (e.g. stress OR PTSD)
  • Implied or redundant words are omitted
    • A search eating disorders does not need to be limited to human
    • If you search for exercise you do not also need to search for “aerobic exercise
  • Age is not searched as a topic. If you need to limit by age, use a search limiter (aka filter). Note, words for ages should only be searched if a database does not provide an age limiter.

Does it make sense to?

  • Limit by age of subjects, language, or date of publication?
  • Look for words only in the articles title or title & abstract?

Once you think your search is textbook perfect…run it! Look at your search results. Don’t panic. Find the off-topic citations; can you NOT them out?

Find a Known Article

If you know the title of the article you want, use these tools to get the article online. If the Library doesn't have your article, place a request through Interlibrary Services.