Writing a Search Strategy
Writing a Search Strategy
It is recommended that you work with a librarian to help you design comprehensive search strategies across a variety of databases. Writing a successful search strategy takes an intimate knowledge of bibliographic databases.
Using Boolean logic is an important component of writing a search strategy:
- "AND" narrows the search, e.g. children AND exercise
- "OR" broadens the search, e.g. (children OR adolescents) AND (exercise OR diet)
- "NOT" excludes terms, e.g. exercise NOT diet
- "*" at the root of a word finds all forms of that word, e.g. (child* OR adolescen*) AND (exercise* OR diet*)
- parentheses ensure all terms will be searched together as a set
- quotations around a phrase searches that exact phrase, e.g. (child* OR adolescen* OR "young adult*")
Evidence Synthesis Search Strategy Examples
- Research question: What are the strategies that farmer organizations use, and what impacts do those strategies have on small-scale producers in Sub Saharan Africa and India?
- Key concepts from the question combined with AND: (farmer organizations) AND (Sub-Saharan Africa OR India)
- Protocol and search strategies for this question in CAB Abstracts, Scopus, EconLit, and grey literature
- Published scoping review for this question
- Research question: What are the health benefits and safety of folic acid fortification of wheat and maize flour (i.e. alone or in combination with other micronutrients) on folate status and health outcomes in the overall population, compared to wheat or maize flour without folic acid (or no intervention)?
- Key concepts from the question combined with AND: (folic acid) AND (fortification)
- Protocol on PROSPERO
- Published systematic review for this question with search strategies used in 14 databases
Search Strategy Template and Filters
If you want to exclude animal studies from your search results, you may add a "human studies filter" to the end of your search strategy. This approach works best with databases that use Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) or other controlled vocabulary.
See Appendix 2 at the end of this published search strategy for an example of a human studies filter in a MEDLINE(Ovid) search strategy.
Line 13 searches for all animal studies, and then line 14 searches for only the full search results in line 12, NOT including any of the animal studies from line 13 (#12 NOT #13).
Add the following lines to the end of your search strategy to filter for randomized controlled trials. These are "validated search filters" meaning they have been tested for sensitivity and specificity, and the results of those tests have been published as a scientific article. The ISSG Search Filters Resource provides validated search filters for many other study design types.
(randomized controlled trial [pt] OR controlled clinical trial [pt] OR randomized [tiab] OR placebo [tiab] OR drug therapy [sh] OR randomly [tiab] OR trial [tiab] OR groups [tiab])
Highly Sensitive MEDLINE (OVID) Filter from Cochrane
((randomized controlled trial.pt. or controlled clinical trial.pt. or randomized.ab. or placebo.ab. or drug therapy.fs. or randomly.ab. or trial.ab. or groups.ab.) not (exp animals/ not humans.sh.))
CINAHL Filter from Cochrane
TX allocat* random* OR (MH "Quantitative Studies") OR (MH "Placebos") OR TX placebo* OR TX random* allocat* OR (MH "Random Assignment") OR TX randomi* control* trial* OR TX ( (singl* n1 blind*) OR (singl* n1 mask*) ) OR TX ( (doubl* n1 blind*) OR (doubl* n1 mask*) ) OR TX ( (tripl* n1 blind*) OR (tripl* n1 mask*) ) OR TX ( (trebl* n1 blind*) OR (trebl* n1 mask*) ) OR TX clinic* n1 trial* OR PT Clinical trial OR (MH "Clinical Trials+")
PsycINFO Filter from ProQuest:
SU.EXACT("Treatment Effectiveness Evaluation") OR SU.EXACT.EXPLODE("Treatment Outcomes") OR SU.EXACT("Placebo") OR SU.EXACT("Followup Studies") OR placebo* OR random* OR "comparative stud*" OR clinical NEAR/3 trial* OR research NEAR/3 design OR evaluat* NEAR/3 stud* OR prospectiv* NEAR/3 stud* OR (singl* OR doubl* OR trebl* OR tripl*) NEAR/3 (blind* OR mask*)
Web Of Science (WoS) Filter from University of Alberta - Not Validated
TS= clinical trial* OR TS=research design OR TS=comparative stud* OR TS=evaluation stud* OR TS=controlled trial* OR TS=follow-up stud* OR TS=prospective stud* OR TS=random* OR TS=placebo* OR TS=(single blind*) OR TS=(double blind*)
Scopus Filter from Children's Mercy Kansas City
Copy/paste into 'advanced search':
TITLE-ABS-KEY((clinic* w/1 trial*) OR (randomi* w/1 control*) OR (randomi* w/2 trial*) OR (random* w/1 assign*) OR (random* w/1 allocat*) OR (control* w/1 clinic*) OR (control* w/1 trial) OR placebo* OR (Quantitat* w/1 Stud*) OR (control* w/1 stud*) OR (randomi* w/1 stud*) OR (singl* w/1 blind*) or (singl* w/1 mask*) OR (doubl* w/1 blind*) OR (doubl* w/1 mask*) OR (tripl* w/1 blind*) OR (tripl* w/1 mask*) OR (trebl* w/1 blind*) OR (trebl* w/1 mask*)) AND NOT (SRCTYPE(b) OR SRCTYPE(k) OR SRCTYPE(p) OR SRCTYPE(r) OR SRCTYPE(d) OR DOCTYPE(ab) OR DOCTYPE(bk) OR DOCTYPE(ch) OR DOCTYPE(bz) OR DOCTYPE(cr) OR DOCTYPE(ed) OR DOCTYPE(er) OR DOCTYPE(le) OR DOCTYPE(no) OR DOCTYPE(pr) OR DOCTYPE(rp) OR DOCTYPE(re) OR DOCTYPE(sh))
Sources and more information: