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University of Washington Health Sciences Library

Systematic Reviews and other evidence synthesis projects

Database Search Tips

Find published reviews on similar topics, and read methods sections which may contain exact search strategies used. Full search strategies often are provided in appendices of Cochrane reviews.

See HSL Database Searching Guides

or Help sections of specific databases for search examples.

PubMed Help


Yale MeSH Analyzer - Do you already have some articles you know should be included? Use this tool to examine their MeSH terms for ones you should include.

Grey Literature for Health Sciences - UBC Health Library

Grey Matters - (CADTH) "a practical tool for searching health-related grey literature"

Translating strategies to run in multiple databases

Limits of the Polyglot tool:

  • Only works correctly on free-text terms.
  • Controlled vocabulary terms such as MeSH and Emtree must be translated by looking them up in the database to which the search is being translated.
  • Translation of search elements that use proximity operators into the syntax for a database that does not allow them may require manual translation by the researcher.

Always evaluate the translated search string.


Embase  search syntax (

searchterm:ti,ab,de to look for words in the titles, abstracts or descriptors, ORed with Emtree terms qualified with either :de if you don’t want the term exploded (‘exploded’ meaning narrower terms beneath a term in the subject lists are included), or /exp if you do want to include narrower terms.  

To get the correct syntax, search within Emtree (Embase thesaurus), then  "Add to Query Builder", then use the options below the search box to filter for date range etc. Then copy the resulting output to your search strategy.

Phrases surrounded by single quotes. Truncation (*) works within phrases. To include singular and plural:
‘health service*’:ti,ab,de 

To eliminate some of the PubMed overlap:
AND [embase]/lim NOT ([embase]/lim AND [medline]/lim)

Using the 'Sources' results filter on the left of the search screen, and choosing Embase, adds the above phrase to your search.

To limit by language: AND english:la
By date range: AND [1990-2015]/py

To limit to articles (not conference abstracts)
AND (‘article’/it OR ‘article in press’/it OR ‘review’/it OR ‘short survey’/it)  

Another option - AND [article]/lim

NOT ([note]/lim OR [conference abstract]/lim OR [conference paper]/lim OR [conference review]/lim OR [editorial]/lim)

To float a subheading: diagnosis:lnk


CINAHL search syntax (Ebsco)

MH for subject headings. Add + at the end of the subject heading to Explode terms (include narrower terms).
To search in the title field, add TI before the word or phrase. Use TW if you want to search in both title/abstract/additional fields. Adjacency searching is possible, so typing something like ‘emergency hospital*’ works without surrounding quotes. Truncation/asterisk works on single words, or at the end of phrases.

(MH emergency service+ OR MH emergency medical services+ OR MH emergency medicine+ OR MH hospitals+ OR MH hospital units+ OR emergency department* OR emergency hospital OR emergency hospitals OR emergency medical service* OR emergency medicine OR emergency room* OR emergency service* OR emergency unit OR emergency units OR emergency ward*)


(decision unit* OR observation unit* OR observational unit* OR short stay unit* OR (TI diagnostic AND TI treatment AND (TI emergency OR TI hospital OR TI hospitals OR TI hospitalization* OR TW rapid diagnostic OR TW rapid diagnosis) AND (TI unit OR TI units OR TI center OR TI centers)))

LA english


PY 2002-2019

PT case study OR PT commentary OR PT editorial

PsycInfo search syntax (Ebsco)

(DE "Falls" OR TI falls OR TI falling OR TI fall OR TI faller* OR AB faller* OR TI recurrent fall* OR AB recurrent fall* OR TI fall risk OR AB fall risk OR TI risk of falling OR AB risk of falling) 
(TX risk OR TX risks OR TX predict* OR DE "Risk Assessment" OR DE "Risk Factors" OR DE "Risk Management" OR DE "Harm Reduction" OR DE "Geriatric Assessment" OR TX likelihood) 
(TX model OR TX models OR TX modeling OR MT "Mathematical model" OR TX algorithm OR TX algorithms OR DE "Statistical Regression" OR DE "Linear Regression" OR DE "Logistic Regression" OR DE "Multiple Regression" OR DE "Nonlinear Regression" OR DE "Logistic Regression" OR "decision tree" OR "decision trees" OR "clinical tool" OR "clinical tools") 
(AG "Aged" OR TX elderly OR TX geriatric OR "older adult" OR "older adults" OR "older women" OR "older men" OR "older patients" OR "older people" OR "older persons" OR TX medicare)
(TX community OR TX communities OR DE "Neighborhoods" OR neighborhood* OR home OR homes OR DE "Community Facilities" OR DE "Community Mental Health Centers" OR DE "Housing" OR DE "Aging in Place" OR DE "Assisted Living" OR DE "Dormitories" OR DE "Group Homes" OR DE "Home Environment" OR DE "Living Arrangements" OR DE "living alone" OR DE "Retirement Communities" OR DE "Nursing Homes" OR DE "Group Homes" OR DE "Halfway Houses" OR DE "Community Services" OR DE "Community Mental Health Services" OR DE "Community Welfare Services" OR DE "Emergency Services" OR DE "Home Care" OR DE "Home Visiting Programs" OR DE "Public Health Services" OR TX residential OR TX residence OR DE "Outpatient Treatment" OR DE "Outpatients")
(LA english AND PY 1985-2019)
(MR clinical case study OR MR nonclinical case study OR PZ column/opinion OR PZ comment/reply OR PZ editorial OR TX inpatient OR TX inpatients)

Filters and Hedges

These kind of filters (sometimes called hedges) are pre-made search strings on commonly-searched-for topics that can be combined with the elements specific to your research question.

Center for Evidence-based Management (CEBMa) methodological search filters for social and organizational sciences research databases

Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN) PubMed search filters for studies related to diagnosis, diagnostic testing, therapy and prognosis. See "CI Librarian Search Filters".

ISSG Search Filters Resource (InterTASC Information Specialists' Sub-Group) Collaborative venture to identify, assess and test search filters designed to retrieve research by study design or focus.

McMaster University evidence-based health informatics Hedges Project search filters

Search Builder 1.0, Excel-based tool to generate, archive, and share search strings for PubMed and Embase. Kamdar BB, Pooja AS. A novel search builder to expedite search strategies for systematic reviews. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care. 2015: 31; 1-3.

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) search filters

University of Texas School of Public Health Library Search filters guide 

Google Searching

Note: Use an incognito browser window to minimize the influence of your location and prior searches.

Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT)

  • AND does not work in Google, but an AND relationship is assumed between words
  • OR operator works and must be in uppercase (OR not or)
  • The pipe symbol | may be used instead of OR. Example: apartments cambridge|arlington
  • NOT does not work in Google. The minus symbol - is the equivalent. Example: UW bookstore -"St. Louis"


  • Google uses automatic word stemming, and does not allow wildcards such as * to be used for variable ends of words. It will also automatically search for some related words, such as plurals.
  • To force it to search on exact phrases or keywords, put quotes around the term: "library" doesn’t find libraries
    Example: "red couch" | "blue sofa"
  • Asterisks act as a whole-word wildcard. Example: "a * saved is a * earned"

Proximity searching

Recall that in a Google search, your terms can appear anywhere on the page. You can require that the terms are within a certain distance of each other by using AROUND() , where the maximum number of words that can be between the terms goes inside the parentheses.
Example:  advanced AROUND(3) cancer

Search structure

  • The Google search field fits up to 256 characters.
  • Punctuation is ignored except $ and underscore or hyphen when used to connect words. Example: brother-in-law or end_of_file
  • The first word is ranked higher than second, which is higher than third, etc. Some pages may rank so highly on the first terms that the subsequent terms are skipped.

You can force Google to include words by using intitle:, allintitle:, intext:, and allintext:.

  • intitle: requires that a search term appears in the title; allintitle: requires that multiple terms appear in the title.
    • intitle:family intitle:planning is the same as allintitle:family planning
    • allintitle:Toyota recall  -- will return only documents that have both Toyota and recall in the title
    • intitle:Toyota recall  -- will return documents that have Toyota in the title, and recall in the title or text
  • intext: searches for a single word or phrase in the body of the search result; allintext: searches for multiple words in the body of the search result.
  • No space between these operators and the following word. Example: intitle:family 
  • Combine multiple intitle or intext queries in the same search line seems to work to create an AND relationship
    intitle:"family planning" intext:hiv intext:screening|testing|test

Limit by domain

If you include site: in your query, Google will restrict the results to those websites in the given domain. For instance, a search on asthma site:gov will find pages on asthma within .gov urls. A search on asthma will find pages from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about asthma. Note there can be no space between site: and the domain.

More Google tips

Google Search Help: Refine Web Searches:

Advanced Searching in Google:

6 common misconceptions when doing advanced Google Searching:

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