Video: Databases and search strategies (3:40 minutes)
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:
Methodology Search Filters by Study DesignFilters for RCTs, CCTs, Non-randomized/observational designs, and tests of diagnostic accuracy.
Source: Countway Library of Medicine. (2019). Systematic Reviews and Meta Analysis: Methodology Filters.
American University of Beirut University Libraries Search FiltersFilters for RCTs, GUIDELINEs, systematic reviews, qualitative studies, etc.
Source: American University of Beirut University Libraries. (2019). Systematic Reviews: Search Filters / Hedges.
Pre-generated queries in Scopus for the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Pre-written SDG search strategies available in Scopus
Scopus, a database of multidisciplinary research, provides pre-written search strategies to capture articles on topics about each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To access these SDG search strategies in Scopus:
- Click on "Advanced Document Search"
- At the bottom of the right-hand column, click on "pre-generated queries." When you click on one of the 17 SDGs, a search strategy for that SDG will populate in the search field in Scopus syntax.
More about the Sustainable Development Goals:
"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests."