Skip to main content

Medicine: Searching

Guide to information resources and services for Medicine, including basic and clinical sciences.

Developing a search strategy

This is a keyword search strategy. The most comprehensive search is a combined keyword and subject heading search.

  1. Define your question
  2. Identify the main search concepts. For each concept, brainstorm for alternative spellings and synonyms
  3. Combine search terms with OR/AND
  4. Use quotes to search for phrases
  5. Retrieve word variations using symbols (Note: these may vary in different databases - see tips)
  6. Consider which limits you want to use

To learn more, book into a Library class or do the online tutorial.

Adjusting your search strategy

Consider your initial search strategy to be a first draft. Use it to search a database, check the results, then adjust the strategy as needed. You may produce a number of drafts before the search strategy is in its final form.

Your search strategy will need to be modified for each database. See the database search tips to faciliate this translation process.

If you retrieve too many results:

  • add another concept and combine with your previous result set using AND
  • use more specific keywords for your search terms or search terms as phrases rather than individual words
  • add limits
  • try proximity operators which dictate how close terms should be in the record - usage varies across databases, see database search tips

If you retrieve too few results:

  • use more general search terms
  • remove limits e.g. publication date limit
  • try a different database

Subject heading searching

Key health databases such as Medline (PubMed), CINAHL and PsycINFO use subject headings, a controlled vocabulary, to describe the content of the publications they index.

These resources explain subject headings:

CADTH Peer review checklist for search strategies

Keeping up to date with new literature

Keep up-to-date with the literature during your research.

Save database search histories and receive email alerts when new articles are published that match your search query.

To do this, create a free personal account when logged into the database with your Monash Authcate.

See the document below for some information on saved searches and alerts:

Literature Reviews - online module

Required to do a literature review? Comprehensive searching is a key part of the review process.

This guide is a self-contained learning module you can return to again and again as you progress with this task.

Systematic Reviews

This video by Cochrane explains why systematic reviews are important and how they are done. 3.23 min.

Systematic reviews - online module

The module above provides an excellent grounding in various aspects of Systematic Reviews.