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Research Guides

BME440: Biomedical engineering technology & investigation

Developing A Search Question

  1. Identify your KEY concepts by writing out your research question and underlining the main ideas. These become your KEY concepts (aka search terms).
  2. Synonymize your search terms for a more robust search. Concept boxes are helpful for this.
  Key Concept                                                 Related Terms                                 
Concept 1    
Concept 2    
Concept 3    

Boolean Operators

Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to tell a database how you want the KEY terms to be combined for your search.

AND - only finds results that include ALL your search terms.  NARROW.
OR - finds results with ANY of your search terms.  BROAD.
(AND) NOT - excludes results that include the specified search term. NARROW.
  • searching elisa AND hiv returns articles that contain both terms
  • searching for cancer OR neoplasms returns article that contain either term
  • searching for spectroscopy NOT x-ray* returns articles that contain the term spectroscopy but not the term x-ray

Database Search Tips

  • Each Database is slightly different.  Make sure you check the Help files of the database so you know you are searching it properly.
  • Some databases, such as COMPENDEX and MEDLINE use controlled terminology.
    • That means that someone looks at each and every article in the database and tags it with words from a thesaurus, so no matter what words the author uses, the words being used to describe the article are consistent; if you use the words that the database uses, you will get all if the articles in the database on that topic.
    • That also means that if you use the words that the database uses to search for articles, the articles don't just have your search terms in the article, but the article is actually about that topic
    • it is a very powerful way to search, and helps you to narrow down your search and helps to make your search results more relevant
  • Other databases, such as Scopus and Web of Science, use keyword searches, so you have to be very creative in the search terms you use
    • the database only searches for what you type in, so if you use "tumour" but there are relevant articles in the database that use "tumor", "neoplasms", "cancer" etc. you won't find those articles
  • Use truncation, wildcards, etc. - often the * symbol, to expand your search
    • for example, searching for "engineer*" in COMPENDEX returns engineer, engineers, engineering, engineered, etc. - you don't have to type in each of those terms
    • in COMPENDEX, searching for sul*ate returns sulfate or sulphate
    • remember, each database has it's own quirks, so look at the help files of each database to learn how best to use wildcards or truncation for each search

    Phrase searching

    • many databases, such as Scopus, automatically insert an "AND" operator in between search terms.
      • example: searching for fluorescence microscopy returns the same results as fluorescence AND microscopy - the two terms will be in the articles, but not necessarily directly adjacent to one another

    • to search for a phrase in many databases, such as Scopus, you should put the phrase in quotation marks
        • example: "fluorescence microscopy" returns article that have the terms flourescence and microscopy directly adjacent to one another

      Check the help files of the database you are searching to determine if you can/should use quotation marks to search for a phrase

      Backwards Searching

      To find seminal earlier works that set the stage for more recent laboratory work/research, you can use:

      • Reference Lists
      • Keyword Searching

      Forwards Searching

      To find more current work that is being done on this topic, you can: 

      • Keyword Searching
      • Times Cited/Cited By

      Sideways Searching

      Sideways searching looks through the related literature.


      compares words from the title, abstract, and MeSH terms using a word-weighted algorithm

      Web of Science 

      compares references


      compares authors OR keywords OR references