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FSN 584: Lipids, Diet and Cardiovascular Disease: Database Search Tips

Top Tips

Brainstorm Terminology

  • Use database tags (indexing, subject headings, "thesaurus" terms) for search terms.
    PubMed: MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)
  • Special features of MeSH & PubMed:
    • PubMed automatically "explodes" MeSH terms
    • PubMed automatically adds keyword searches of your entered term
    • Use subheadings to find a few, very targeted results
  • No database tags?
    • Connect synonyms with OR
    • Truncate (use a wildcard) to get variations on a word: obes* to find obese, obesity, obesogenic..
    • Try alternative spelling: paediatric as well as pediatric

Booleans: ANDs & ORs

Booleans are what we use to communicate with the databases.

Use AND for more specific results
niacin AND cholesterol
  AND narrows a search, finding only results containing both terms.


Use OR to broaden a search with related terms
niacin OR vitamin B3
  OR expands a search, finding results containing either or both terms.

Image credit: "Logic Gates.svg" by HereToHelp, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, is available via Wikimedia Commons. Nancy R. Curtis cropped images from original graphic, and modified colors to accommodate color vision disabilities.

Use quotation marks to keep a single term with multiple words together

Example: "Ascorbic Acid"

Use an asterisk to get every possible ending of a root word

Example: nutri* 

This will give you results with the following words: nutrient, nutrients, nutritious, nutrition, etc.

Limits, Filters, & Facets

Consider using the following limits when a database provides them:

  • English language
  • Publication Year range (if appropriate)

Other limits & filters are available, like Publication Type for review articles.

Use Additional Search Engine Features

Crude but effective measures:

  • Field search: find references listing your search terms in article titles
  • Search by subject or disciplinary facets (if available)

Keep your search organized

Use one of the following tools to keep yourself organized while you search:

Not every database has the option to get a query link like Web of Science. It's good to include them whenever they're available though. Here are some things to look for on other databases to get that permanent link to your results page:

  • Get Permalink
  • Share results
  • Copy Link

If none of these are available options, reach out to Lindsay Decker for help finding the link option in that particular database.

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