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Searching: Start to Search

Detailed guide to searching tips and tricks



‚Äč                    Simple search.              Always start simple: Many search engines enhance your terms.  You may get other insights from these first results 

           More Specific?              If too many results find terms to describe additional aspects (concepts) of the topic. Apply limits.

        More Sensitive?            If too few results  -    find better alternative terms and keywords for each aspect of the topic  

                Complex Strategies      Create these for very precise (Specific) searches or for very  all-inclusive (Sensitive) searches

              Example Used               Does aspirin prevent heart attacks in elderly men?


                                 You might also like:

  •                                                                   NHS Literature Searching Course Module 1 Introduction to searching
  •                                                                           For information on whole programme see 

                                                      SIMPLE SEARCH  


Why do this ?      It's quick and search engines often enhance your search.

                    They might: 

  • Find other forms of your word  - plurals etc
  • Flag up or include alternative spellings,   Hematology - haematology
  • Add alternative terms - 
  • Restrict you to reliable information ( NICE Evidence, Trip )
  • Prioritise your results.

You can also find alternative or better terms in some of the results presented


Enter Terms         Use simple versions of the most important terms          aspirin heart attack


Live Examples    Go to NHS Evidence      Go to Trip   Go to Pubmed   Go to Google Scholar      Go to Google


The search is for aspirin AND Heart AND attack,   All three terms must be present  and most give relevant results.      

  • Pubmed enhances the search terms by adding the correct cataloguer's key words, the MeSH terms.    (which here are  'Myocardial Infarction' & 'aspirin')
  •  So this is the full search string used    Pubmed search details
  •   Pubmed Enhanced Heart attack search 
  • The occasional  disadvantage is that the more obvious results may now be spread out within a broader (*more sensitive) set of results.

        You might also like:

                                                           Too Many Results ?          

Refine the Search          Making the search more Specific   Find specific records


1: Add additional terms

  • Draw in more terms to describe other aspects of the search
  •  eg   Elderly Prevention   (with an implicit AND )

  New Strategy:     heart attack aspirin prevention elderly 

2: Use phrases:  

  • Use Double quotes ( SHIFT + 2 ) around "heart attack"
  • This  prioritises the phrase

 New Strategy:     aspirin "Heart attack"  prevention

3: Set Limits

  • Look for ways of screening your results
  • You might want to look at a specific date range
  • You could limit to article type eg  search for reviews


You might also like:

Too Few Results ?  

Refine the Search                                    Making the search more Sensitive          


1:   Add additional alternative terms

  • Find alternative terms for each of the major terms
  • Link theses alternatives with its each major term with OR
  • Mark these groups with round brackets - always

New Strategy:    aspirin ("heart attack" OR "Myocardial infarction" )  ( prevention OR prophylaxis)

2:   Why use Brackets?

     Compare these 2 pubmed searches :      asthma children OR adults            asthma (children OR adults)

  • The first search gives you asthma in children but then adds...everything with adults in it
  • The second search gives only papers about asthma in a population of children and adults
  • More information about ANDS and ORs  on this  summary sheet  HERE  or in the presentation below 


3a:  Make  minor terms less specific ie more general

        Looking for Spider allergy in astronauts...                                  Compare these 2 searches:

 2 spider astronaut

                                "Spider Allergy"  astronauts        with more general            allergy astronauts


OR if your focus is really on spider allergy try     "Spider allergy" adults   


      Blue spider                  Blue spider

3b:   Omit the minor terms

       If you are looking for a rarified topic, then try just searching for it as a single aspect/concept.

        So just search for  "Spider allergy"   or even  spider allergy

        The search may then be too broad so you might search the main term and then exclude irrelevant items

        So to get rid of spider mite results  try  Spider allergy -"spider mite"     In google a minus sign is used for 'NOT' 

        For more information see Complex Searching Tab or the google guide below


You might also like:

Additional Resources

            See the Complex Search tab to learn about very thorough searching   and the 'Resources' Tab for more handouts               


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