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Research Guides@Tufts

EBVM Search Guide: Getting Started

Resources to support database searching.

Subject Headings

  • Subject headings are controlled and specific to a database.
  • Subject headings remove the need to think of words, phrases or the spelling the author may have used.
  • Combine subject headings with keywords to improve the search results and to do a more complete search.


Think of keywords as something the author said, in exactly the way they said it. Computers accept what you type in a literal fashion. When you search, consider:

  • how a word is spelled, i.e. American vs. British spelling;
  • single, plural or possessive word endings, ex: Alzheimer / Alzheimers / Alzheimer's;
  • word ending variations, ex: ethic / ethics / ethical / ethicality;
  • word order, ex: bird song / song bird;
  • alternate words, ex: turtle / terrapin.

Boolean Search Operators

Improve your search strategy by using Boolean search operators ("and", "or", "not"). They allow you to be more specific in how you combine search terms.


Use AND to focus search and combine different aspects of your topic.

Example: hematopoiesis and simulation


Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.

Example:  refinement or alternative


Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search

Example: dogs not mice

Additional Search Tips

Phrase search  -  Use quotation marks (" ")   to search for a particular phrase.

Example: "tissue culture"

Truncation  -  Use an asterisk (*) or question mark (?) to find variations of a word. Put an asterisk following the root of the word to find all variations of that word, including singular and plural.

Example: monitor* (finds: monitor, monitors, monitored, monitoring, etc.)

Grouping or Nesting Keywords  -  Use parentheses ( ) as a way to group all your search terms together.

Example: ("surgical stripping" or "surgical ligation") and (anesthe? or anasthe? or anaesthe?) and method?

Documenting a Search

The search process needs to be documented in enough detail throughout the process to ensure that it can be reported correctly in the review, to the extent that all the searches of all the databases are reproducible.

  • databases searched
  • date search was run and years covered by search
  • language or publication restrictions

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, version 5.1.0 (2011). Section 6.6