Maximize Your Literature Search

Decide what type of information you need

Background information:  General knowledge about condition, treatment, test, etc. (Often questions begin with:  What, How, Why, etc.  Ex. What is the best treatment for pneumonia?) 

Foreground information: More specific and complex typically concerning a specific patient or population.  (Often questions begin with the Patient/Population/Problem  Ex. In an 80-year-old women with pneumonia, is drug X better than drug Y for preventing mortality? 

Background Information Resources

  • E-books, etc. 
    • AccessMedicine  
    • ClinicalKey  
    • LWW Health Library Collection  
  • Point of Care Tool 
    • UpToDate  
  • Drugs/Medications 
    • Lexi-Comp, Micromedex, MedlinePlus 
  • All of the above are found on the library website (  Popular Resources > Databases  
  • Search using Keywords 

Foreground Information Resources

  • Databases  
    • PubMed – Biomedical
    • Embase – Biomedical
    • PsycINFO – Psychology/Psychiatry
    • CINAHL – Nursing and Allied Health
    • Scopus – use for forward citation searching
    • Web of Science – use for forward citation searching
  • All of the above are found on the library website (  Popular Resources > Databases  
  • Search using Subject Headings/Index Terms AND Keywords 
  • Save searches within databases 

Use Subject Headings/Index Terms/Thesaurus Terms to

  • Avoid irrelevant articles  
    • Articles that contain the topic term but aren’t specifically about the topic 
  • Include articles that use synonyms and/or various spellings of your topic  
    • heart attack vs myocardial infarction 
    • pediatrics in U.S. vs. paediatrics in Great Britain 
  • Provide clarity when words are spelled the same but have different meanings 
    • tears from your eyes vs. tears in cartilage 
    • study aids vs AIDS (the disease) 

Use Keywords for

  • New terms 
  • Very recent articles 
  • Drug names 
  • Comprehensive searching 

Keyword Searching tips

Synonyms           for high blood pressure, try: hypertension or hbp
Truncate              diagnos* = diagnosis, diagnosing, diagnostic, diagnostics, etc

Proximity            cell NEAR/3 block   NOTE: Does not work in PubMed.
Use fields            look for keywords in the abstract or title. 
Spelling               pediatrics OR paediatrics (consider using singular in PubMed) 
Phrase                 “therapeutic touch” NOTE: Does not work in PubMed. 
Nesting                (Example below)
(“therapeutic touch” OR “healing touch”) AND (inpatient Ohospitalized or hospital) AND pain 

Save searches within databases 

  • PubMed – Use MyNCBI for search alerts 
  • All other databases have a “Save Search” feature.  Often, you must create a free login for the database. 

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