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HHPF 559: Applied Research Methods

Database searching

Advanced Search Strategies


These terms (AND, OR, NOT) can help you broaden or narrow the results you receive when searching within the databases.

  • AND narrows your search, as it tells the database that you only want results that contain ALL of the search terms
  • OR expands your search, as it tells the database that you want all the articles that contain EITHER of the terms
  • NOT excludes items from your search, as it tells the database that you do not want any articles that contain a certain term

For more information on these strategies, visit this guide from the Priddy Library.


Using the * (asterisk symbol), truncation uses the root of a word to find results that contain any variation of the root.

  • Example: pharm* will find pharmacology, pharmacy, pharmaceutical, etc.
  • Example: injur* will find injury, injuries, etc.

For more information on these strategies, visit this guide from the Priddy Library.

Unlike keywords, Subject Headings are the major content in the article; they're also called "controlled vocabulary." A search on the topic altitude training as a keyword may retrieve some articles with 'altitude,' some with 'training' and some with the phrase 'altitude training.' But if the subject heading is 'altitude training' then the article is focused on that topic. Your search may be much broader retrieving more articles with keywords, but in searching with subject headings, you are likely to get fewer but more precise results. Subject headings are also referred to as 'descriptors' in some databases.

More specifically, PubMed and MEDLINE utilize Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), a controlled vocabulary created by the National Library of Medicine.


Some databases have a thesaurus - a powerful collection of subject headings or standardized terms created by the indexers. Controlled vocabulary provides more effective searching capability in databases where a thesaurus is available. For example you may think of the word 'substance abuse,' but the database thesaurus indexes it as 'drug abuse.'

Use the thesaurus to find keywords and phrases and apply these search terms in the subject field (SU or DE).  The results may be better for searches of thesaurus terms in the subject field than for a simple keyword search of the title or abstract of an article.

Make sure to consult the following thesauri when searching these databases:

MEDLINE- MeSH terms (Medical Subject Heading)

CINAHL - subject headings

PsycINFO - thesaurus from APA