Start developing a search strategy by identifying the key words and concepts within your research question. The aim is to identify the words likely to have been used in the published literature on this topic.
For example: What are the key infection control strategies for preventing the transmission of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in aged care homes.
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).
|Search concept 1||Search concept 2||Search concept 3|
|infection control||methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus||aged care homes|
|infection prevention||meticillin resistant staphylococcus aureus||nursing homes|
|MESH TERMS||MESH TERMS||MESH TERMS|
|exp Infection Control/||Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus/||homes for the aged/|
Example: nursing home OR aged care home
Example: nursing home AND infection control
Example: aged care homes NOT residential homes will retrieve all the results that include the words aged care homes but don't include the words residential homes. So if an article discussed both concepts this article would not be retrieved as it would be excluded on the basis of the words residential homes.
Truncation - By using truncation you can capture all of the various endings possible for a particular word. This may increase the number of results and reduce the likelihood of missing something relevant.
The truncation symbol is commonly an asterisk * and is added at the end of a word.
It may be added to the root of a word that is a word in itself e.g. prevent* will retrieve prevent, preventing, prevention preventative etc.
It may also be added to the root of a word that is not a word in itself e.g. 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 search tips for details, or check the Help link in any database.
For words that you want to keep as a phrase, place two or more words in "inverted commas" or "quote marks". This will ensure word order is maintained and that you only retrieve results that have those words appearing together.
Example: “nursing homes”
There are a few databases that don't require the use of quote marks such as Ovid Medline and other databases in the Ovid suite. The Database search tips provides details on phrase searching in key databases, or you can check the Help link in any database.
Many databases use subject headings to index content. These are generally selected from a controlled list by experienced indexers 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.
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:
Many databases provide system based limits. Adding a limit to a search will exclude certain material not relevant to your research question, and therefore reduce the number of results. These functions vary from database to database but often appear on your initial search screen or beside your search results.
The use of limits should be justified by the focus of your research and any constraints.
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
The above search strategy in a nested format (for use in a single search box) would look like:
("infection control*" OR "infection prevention") AND ("methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus" OR "meticillin resistant staphylococcus aureus" OR MRSA) AND ( "aged care home*" OR "nursing home*")
The following video will present a range of resources and advanced search strategies to help you find information for your literature reviews. Approximate running time 20 minutes.
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