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Systematic Review: Database search translation

Copy of published guide 'systematic review' (Paula Todd version) for Editing taken in July 2021

Search translation tips

It is important to run the same search in all databases, however you will need to adapt any aspects of your search strategy such as phrase searches, truncation, wildcards, and adjacency. Each database can have unique features or functions. Things you will usually need to modify include:

  • Subject Headings
  • Phrase searching, proximity/adjacency operators, truncation , wildcards
  • Seach Fields
  • Filters

Subject Headings

Many databases can be searched using subject headings (also known as subject terms, index terms, descriptors). Subject headings will differ between the databases, therefore you need to adjust your search accordingly by mapping your terms to the appropriate headings in each database you have selected for your review. As indicated in the example in the table below, even though all three of the databases are on the OVID platform/interface, the term heart attack will still result in three different subject heading results when mapped separately. Sometimes you will find additional subject headings you think are relevant when you start to check in other databases, you may also need to explode a subject heading that was not exploded in the original search. If necessary go back to your original database and check that there is not a similar term that you may have missed.


Subject heading

Term mapped-(heart attack)

MEDLINE (Ovid)  

MeSH - Medical Subject Headings

Myocardial Infarction/



heart infarction/

PSYCInfo (Ovid)

American Psychological Association(APA index)

Heart Disorders/

Phrase searching, proximity, truncation and wildcards

Dependng on the database you are searching, you may need to adapt certain operators in your search and also ensure whether or not you have to utilise quotation marks for phrase searching. Ovid databases have a default phrase search but other databases may place an implied AND in-betweeen terms unless quotations are placed around two concepts together. Proximity operators if used will aslo need to be adjusted. .


See the Database search tips sheet

Search Fields

Database records contain descriptive information about publications organised into searchable sections called 'fields'. Targeting your search to specific fields can be a powerful tool when designing your search strategy. You may be able to improve the relevancy of your results by searching for terms in specific fields. By default, most databases will search for the terms you enter in a variety of fields.

For example, in Ovid MEDLINE you will see the default mp (multi purpose field)
 mp. [mp=title, abstract, original title, name of substance word, subject heading word, floating sub-heading word, keyword heading word, organism supplementary concept word, protocol supplementary concept word, rare disease supplementary concept word, unique identifier, synonyms


How to use field codes with keyword terms - example searches:

•    chronic pain.ti,ab - use a comma to combine fields

•    (chronic pain OR recur* pain).ti,ab - use brackets when combining terms


For a full breakdown of all available fields within any Ovid database click the 'i' icon to the left of the database name which will take you to the Field Guide for your selected database:


Source: Information and images used and modified with permission from University of South Australia Libguide 






MEDLINE  (OVID) RCT (randomised controlled trial) Filter EMBASE  (OVID) RCT Filter
screenshot of filters used in Ovid Medline example search screenshot of filters used in Ovid Embase example search


Example database search translation

In this search translation example, highlighted in red, the subject headings have been mapped to the appropriate Subject headings/Descriptors for each database, the proximity operators used adjusted and the field searching also adapted.
Recent change (Sept 2021): Embase and Emcare now align with MEDLINE with .kf for author supplied keywords.

Medline (OVID) Embase (OVID)
1 exp Dietary Proteins/ 1 protein intake/
2 (protein* adj3 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*)).ti,ab,kf. 2 (protein* adj3 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*)).ti,ab,kf.
3 1 OR 2 3 1 OR 2
S1 (MH "Diet, High Protein") S1 DE "LOW protein diet"
S2 (MH "Dietary Proteins+") S2 DE "HIGH protein diet" OR DE "FOOD--Protein content"
S3 TI ( protein N2 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*) ) OR AB ( protein N2 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*) ) S3 TI ( protein N2 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*) ) OR AB ( protein N2 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*) ) OR KW ( protein N2 (diet* or supplement* or intake* or consum* or ingest*) )
S4 S1 OR S2 OR S3 S4 S1 OR S2 OR S3