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Gerstein Science Information Centre

Health Policy, Management & Evaluation (HPME)

Advanced Search Strings



1. When searching a database like Medline, use subject headings to target your search.

2. When searching the web, or a database like Scopus, use these tips to find more relevant results:


  • AND different concepts OR synonyms" "
  • doctors AND communication AND (cell phone OR mobile phone OR smart phone)

“ ” (quotes)

  • Group words together as a phrase
  • (doctors OR hospitals) AND "decision support systems"

*  (asterisk)

  • Different endings to a word
  • doctor* will find doctor, doctors, doctorate

For example, an advanced search string for Google Scholar might be

Advanced Medline Searching

i) Use Limit to exclude inappropriate articles.  Common limits such English and human  are below the search box; more via the Limit Icon at the top of the screen.

     1. nicotine/                              1585

    2. limit 1 to clinical trial               89     (limit to publication type)

ii) Use Focus* : indicates the primary focus of the article and can result in smaller and more relevant retrieval.

          1. Kidney Failure, Chronic/    39485

          2. *Kidney Failure, Chronic/  25586

iii) Combine with textwords with MeSH (subject headings). 

Use when there are no good subject headings.

          1. Administration, Cutaneous  1463

          2.                         6924 (search Patch, uncheck 'match term to subject heading')

          3. 1 or 2                              8144

iv) If you are only interested in a specific aspect, consider using appropriate subheadings. The default is all subheadings.  Selected headings include:

  • economics
  • education
  • ethics
  • legislation & jurisprudence
  • organization & administration
  • statistics & numerical data
  • trends

v) Use adjacency with textword phrases. Use for phrases which may be stated in different ways. Add a number to specify how close the terms should be (number of words apart)

         1. patella adj3   

         (will retrieve patella within 3 words of taping - patella taping,  taping the patella, or patella held by taping)

vi) Ovid MEDLINE and Pubmed  provide excellent online help!  Make use of it!

More handouts and tutorials on the Gerstein Homepage >> Research Support >> Guides and Tutorials

Search the Web Faster, Better, Smarter

Focus on the question. What you are searching for? the latest developments, statistics etc. Give it some thought BEFORE you start your search.

Pick the right search tool vs. the one you know!  Is the information likely to be in an article, book, on the open internet? Who is likely to have authored the work? Who is the intended audience?

Examine what you find to revise your strategy. Analyze the most useful results for related terminology, sources, authors etc. to add to your search.

Read the instructions and/or scope notes for databases, clincal queries, limits, thesauri, etc.

Money talks. For academic work, focus on paid (licensed) sources. Find these on the Gerstein website.

Avoid commonly used words. e.g. health, drugs, therapy, the, an, etc.

Replicate. Unless you have found exactly what you are looking for and confirmed accuracy, don’t stop with one source. Tools vary in quality and inclusion.

Don’t spend a lot of time trying to make something work. Try a different tool or approach. Never hesitate to ask for help.

Don't get side-tracked.  Bookmark or save that spectacular find, and move on.

Keep your search simple in simple tools.  Don’t complicate your search by adding too many terms, but use discretion. Use roots of words where supported.

What is the scope of the search tool? What subjects and titles are included? Pubmed and Medline index the same journals, for example.

What is being searched? Full text, bibliographic citations, references? Free text or controlled vocabularly? 

What type of search is it? Free text (Scopus),  Guided (Ovid),  “Intelligent” or algorithmic (Pubmed, Google)

Trusted Web Sources