Start developing a search strategy by identifying the key words and concepts within your research question.
For example: What strategies can healthcare workers use to communicate effectively with clients with a hearing disability?
Treat each component as a separate concept (there are usually between 2-4 concepts).
For each concept list the key words derived from your research question, as well as any other relevant terms or synonyms that you have found in your preliminary searches. Also consider singular and plural forms of words, variant spellings, acronyms and relevant index terms (subject headings).
While the term strategies has been identified as a concept in this example, there are likely to be relevant articles that do not include terms such as strategies. As such, this concept would probably not be included in the final search strategy.
|Search concept 1||Search concept 2||Search concept 3||Search concept 4|
|strategies||healthcare workers||communication||hearing disability|
|methods||healthcare professionals||communicating||hearing impairment|
|health personnel||interpersonal communication||hearing impaired|
|health professional||communication skills||deaf|
|Combine search terms with OR / AND / NOT (Boolean operators)|
Example: hearing impaired OR deaf
Example: hearing impaired AND communication
Example: hearing impaired NOT deaf will retrieve all results that include the words hearing impaired but don’t contain the word deaf.
|Use symbols to retrieve word variations|
Truncation - The truncation symbol is commonly an asterisk * and is added at the end of a word.
The asterisk applied to the root of a word captures other endings to that root word making it useful for retrieving singular, plural and other variations of a keyword.
Example: strateg* will retrieve strategy, strategies, strategic, strategize etc
Note: If you don't want to retrieve all possible variations, an easy alternative is to utilise the OR operator instead e.g. strategy OR strategies.
Wildcard - Wildcard symbols include the question mark ? and hash #. They replace zero, one or more characters in the middle of a word.
Example: wom#n finds woman or women, p?ediatric finds pediatric or paediatric.
The symbols may vary in different databases - See the Database operators guide on the left for details or check the Help link in any database.
|Use quotes to keep word order when searching for phrases|
For phrase searching, place two or more words in "inverted commas" or "quote marks".
Example: “hearing impaired”
In some databases, words may be searched separately if the quote marks are not used. In other databases, word order may be maintained without the need for quote marks.
See the Database operators guide for details on phrase searching in key databases, or check the Help link in any database.
|Identify appropriate Subject Headings (index terms)|
Many databases use subject headings to index content. These are generally selected from a controlled list by experienced indexers (people - not machines!) and describe what the article is about.
A comprehensive search strategy is often best achieved by using a combination of keywords and subject headings where possible.
In-depth knowledge of subject headings is not required for users to benefit from improved search performance using them in their searches.
Advantages of subject searching:
Note: Subject headings are often unique to a particular database, so you will need to look for appropriate subject headings in each database you intend to use.
Subject headings are not available for every topic, and it is best to only select them if they relate closely to your area of interest.
|MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)|
The MeSH thesaurus provides standard terminology, imposing uniformity and consistency on the indexing of biomedical literature. In Pubmed/Medline each record is tagged with MeSH (Medical Subject Headings).
The MeSH vocabulary includes:
|Identify useful limits|
Many databases provide system based limits. Adding a limit to a search will exclude certain material not relevant to your research question.
Examples include limiting to English language, limiting by publication date or limiting to a specific document type.
The use of limits should be justified by the focus of your research and any constraints.
|It is useful to build a ‘sample set’ or ‘gold set’ of relevant references before you develop your search strategy.|
Sources for a 'sample set' may include:
The papers in your 'sample set' can then be used to help you identify relevant search terms
The 'sample set' will also provide a means of testing your search strategy
|An example of a search strategy that could be applied to different databases is shown below|
The above search strategy in a nested format (for use in a single search box) would look like:
("healthcare worker*" OR "health care worker*" OR "healthcare professional*" OR "health professional*" OR "health personnel") AND (communicat* OR "interpersonal communication" OR "communication skill*") AND ("hearing disabilit*" OR "hearing impair*" OR deaf* OR "hard of hearing" OR "hearing loss")