Searching the Published Literature Effectively
Searching the Healthcare Databases
HEE guides to searching the main database providers can be found here.
Step 1: Choose a Website
On our E-resources page, choose the Ovid, EBSCOHost, or ProQuest website. To help you choose the most relevant one, hover your mouse over the name of each website to see what databases they include. You will be asked to log in with your NHS OpenAthens account. Not got one? Register here for an OpenAthens account.
Some of the most popular databases:
Medline (general medical database) can be accessed through any website
EMBASE (general medical database, more European focus, good for drugs) can be accessed through Ovid
CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) can be accessed through EBSCOHost
Step 2: Choose a database
Usually select a database by ticking the box next to the database you want to search (e.g. Medline).
You can select more than one database at a time, but if you do this your searching options are then more limited; you won’t be able to use the Thesaurus, and there will be fewer fields and limits available.
Step 3: Enter your search terms
Two Types of Searching
There are two main types of searching:
1. Thesaurus/Subject headings
This searches subject terms that are given to each article (to describe its content). Similar to tags on social media.
2. Text word/Free text
This searches for the word as it appears in the reference, e.g. in the title, abstract, etc.
Pros and Cons of each search type:
Increases relevance and standardises terminology/spelling
May be incorrectly applied by the indexer
Text word/Free text -
Good if no thesaurus term
Decreases relevance e.g. surgery could mean an operating theatre, a GP surgery or to have surgery
In general, choose the advanced search option. If you are searching on the Ovid website, untick the box “Map term to subject heading” unless you want to use subject / thesaurus headings.
Type in your first term and click on Search. This will return records that contain the exact words you entered. Each database automatically searches slightly different fields, but don’t worry too much about this. You can choose specific fields (such as Title, Abstract, Author, or Journal Name) if you need to.
If you are doing a systematic review, it is really important that you record your search exactly and choose specific fields. Please contact us for help and advice before starting your search.
To search for words with the same stem, use * as a wild card: manag* will return documents with the words manage, managing, management etc.
Ovid will automatically assume you are looking for an exact phrase, but you can specify other options. On the EBSCOHost and ProQuest websites, enter phrases in inverted commas to retrieve the exact phrase: e.g “advanced nurse practitioner”
Step 4: Using the thesaurus/subject headings
Use the thesaurus to find the subject headings used for indexing articles in the database: this helps you find articles that use synonyms for your chosen term.
Step 5a: Combining terms (using OR)
Basic information is listed here, if you would like further help and advice, contact us.
As you carry out searches they are added to the search strategy as line numbers. When you have carried out more than one search you can combine the results to create new search rows
'OR' Search Tip
Use OR where you want either term included in your results: Oestrogen OR Estrogen will return documents with either oestrogen or estrogen or both terms.
This is different in the different websites:
Ovid: Select (tick) all the searches (terms) that you want to combine and click OR
EBSCOHost: Select (tick) all the searches (terms) that you want to combine and click Search with OR
ProQuest: In Recent searches, type the numbers of the search lines you wish to combine, e.g. 1 OR 2 OR 3
Step 5b: Combining terms (using AND)
‘AND’ search tip
Use AND where you want both terms included in your results: Cancer AND Chemotherapy will only return documents with both cancer and chemotherapy.
This is different in the different websites:
Ovid: Select (tick) all the searches (terms) that you want to combine and click AND
EBSCOHost: Select (tick) all the searches (terms) that you want to combine and click Search with AND
ProQuest: In Recent searches, type the numbers of the search lines you wish to combine, e.g. 1 AND 2 AND 3
Brackets search tip
This is one way to combine results using both AND and OR.
e.g. (kidney OR renal) AND dialysis
Step 6: Limiting your search
Limits help to narrow your search, e.g. by language, date, or age.
The way you apply limits differs between websites.
Ovid: Tick the line you want to limit. Choose the limits underneath the search box, and click Search.
EBSCOHost: View the results of the line you want to limit. Choose the limits from the left hand side.
ProQuest: View the results of the line you want to limit. Choose the limits from the left hand side.
TIP: Don't add limits until you have finished combining your rows.
Step 7: Viewing results
Results of the last search to be completed will be displayed at the bottom of the screen (scroll down).
If full-text is available (i.e. if the Library has a subscription to that journal/that edition), there will be a link at the bottom of the record.
Results can usually be sorted by publication date.
Step 8: Saving results
Select articles you want to email to yourself by clicking in the box or folder icon next to each record.
Ovid: Click on the Email icon. Complete the popup and send it to yourself.
EBSCOHost: At the very top of the page, click on the folder icon. Select the articles you want to email to yourself, and click on the E-mail icon. Complete your details and email them to yourself.
ProQuest: Use the envelope icon to email the results to yourself. Complete the popup and send it to yourself.
Click on the box above to access the e-learning
How to Search The Literature Effectively
A step-by-step guide to finding information and developing the skills for successful searching.
These modules are designed to help the healthcare workforce (clinical and non-clinical) build confidence to search published literature for articles and evidence relevant to their work, study and research. The modules are short (each taking no more than 20 minutes to complete) and may be ‘dipped into’ for reference, or completed to obtain a certificate. There are seven modules suitable for novice searchers and those wishing to refresh their knowledge.
Building the foundations
Module 1. Introduction to searching
Module 2. Where do I start searching?
Module 3. How do I start to develop a search strategy?
Developing the skills
Module 4. Too many results? How to narrow your search
Module 5. Too few results? How to broaden your search
Module 6. Searching with subject headings
Access the modules here: https://www.e-lfh.org.uk/programmes/literature-searching/
or click on the banner at the top of the page.
Animations to help you apply OR/AND in your searches: