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University of Washington Health Sciences Library

Systematic Reviews and other evidence synthesis projects

Translating strategies to run in multiple databases

A comprehensive search requires you to search in multiple databases to make sure you have located all relevant articles for your question. Once you have built your search, it's time to translate it to your other databases.

**Read the help section for any unfamiliar database**
Rules for one database may be slightly different than another. It's also OK to ask a librarian for guidance or to proof-read your translation!

A search string often has a combination of controlled vocabulary terms and free-text terms. These get translated two different ways. Databases often have their own set of controlled vocabulary terms. When you translate a MeSH term, for example, you will need to identify the term(s) that most closely matches it in the new database's controlled vocabulary. For free-text terms that use field tags like [tiab], you will need to translate the field tag. Your ORs and ANDs will stay the same.

Example:
PubMed
("Pain, Postoperative"[Mesh] OR "post-surgical pain"[tiab] OR "postsurgical pain"[tiab] OR "post-operative pain"[tiab] OR "postoperative pain"[tiab])

Embase
('postoperative pain'/exp OR ('post-surgical pain' OR 'postsurgical pain' OR 'post-operative pain' OR 'postoperative pain'):ti,ab)

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.

Syntax Basics for Frequently-Used Databases

**Read the help section for any unfamiliar database**

PubMed search syntax

  • Subject headings: MeSH. [mesh] or [mh] for exploded terms; [mesh:noexp] or [mh:noexp] for unexploded terms - "Emergency Medical Services"[Mesh]
  • Limit search to Title field: [ti] - "health behavio*"{ti]
  • Limit search to Abstract field: [ab] - "health behavio*"[ab]
  • Search for term in Title and Abstract fields: [tiab] - "health behavio*"[tiab]
  • Search for term in "text words" which includes Title, Abstract, Author Keywords, and MeSH fields: [tw] - "health behavio*"[tw]
  • No proximity searching
  • Automatic Term Mapping tries to match terms and phrases unless they have field tags, quotation marks, or truncation. Always check search details to make sure it is doing what you intended.
  • Truncation/asterisk: works on single words or at the end of phrases, including within quotes.

See the PubMed User Guide or HSL's PubMed research guide for more tips.

 

Embase search syntax (Embase.com)

  • Subject headings: Emtree. /exp for exploded terms; /de for unexploded terms - 'emergency health service'/exp
  • Limit search to Title field: :ti - 'health behavio*':ti
  • Limit search to Abstract field: :ab - 'health behavio*':ab
  • Limit search to Keywords field: :kw - 'health behavio*':kw
  • Search for term in Title, Abstract, and Keywords fields: :ti,ab,kw - ('health behavio*'):ti,ab,kw
  • Also search for term in the descriptors (Emtree):  :de - ('health behavio*'):ti,ab,kw,de
  • Proximity searching: NEAR/X where X= one term will be within X number of words of the other in any order; NEXT/X in the order in which they're entered - chronic NEAR/3 pain retrieves chronic pain, chronic pelvic pain, and chronic low back pain, among others.
  • Does not reliably guess phrases: use quotes around phrases or use proximity operators
  • Truncation/asterisk: works on single words, within phrases or at the end of phrases, including within quotes: 'metabol* disorder*'.

See HSL's Embase research guide or Elsevier's Embase Support Center for more tips.

 

CINAHL search syntax (EBSCO)

  • Subject headings: MH. Add + at the end of the subject heading to Explode terms (include narrower terms) - (MH emergency service+)
  • Limit search to Title field: TI - TI("health behavio*")
  • Limit search to Abstract field: AB - AB("health behavio*")
  • Search for term in both Title and Abstract fields: enter separately with TI and AB: TI("health behavio*") OR AB("health behavio*")
  • Proximity searching: NX where X= the maximum number of words between the two terms in any order; WX in the order in which they're entered - chronic N2 pain retrieves chronic pain, chronic pelvic pain, and chronic low back pain, among others.
  • Truncation/asterisk: works on single words or at the end of phrases, including within quotes.

CINAHL contains some full-text articles. To search within the full text of these, use TX( )

See HSL's CINAHL research guide for more tips.

 

PsycInfo search syntax (EBSCO)

  • Subject headings: APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, DE. Exploded terms will list all the narrower terms within the search rather than hiding them like in other databases. Must also explicitly explode any narrower terms that should be exploded. - (DE "Health Behavior" OR DE "Exercise Dependence" OR DE "Health Risk Behavior" OR DE "Healthy Eating" OR DE "Hygiene" OR DE "Preventive Health Behavior" OR DE "Preventive Health Behavior" OR DE "Physical Distancing"OR DE "Safe Sex" OR DE "Self-Care")
  • Can also include MeSH terms using MA. These will not be exploded so add any narrower terms you want - MA("Emergeny Medical Services")
  • Limit search to Title field: TI - TI("health behavio*")
  • Limit search to Abstract field: AB - AB("health behavio*")
  • Limit search to Keywords field: KW- KW("health behavio*")
  • Search for term in Title, Abstract, and Keyword fields: enter separately with TI, AB, and KW: TI("health behavio*") OR AB("health behavio*") OR KW("health behavio*")
  • Proximity searching: NX where X= the maximum number of words between the two terms in any order; WX in the order in which they're entered - chronic N2 pain retrieves chronic pain, chronic pelvic pain, and chronic low back pain, among others.
  • Truncation/asterisk: works on single words or at the end of phrases, including within quotes.

PsycInfo contains some full-text articles. To search within the full text of these, use TX( )

See in-database help for more tips.

 

Web of Science search syntax

  • No subject headings - free text only
  • Limit search to Title, Abstract, Author Keywords, and Keywords Plus using Topic search - TS=("health behavio*")
  • Can also limit search to just Title, Abstract, or Keyword field using TI, AB, or KW
  • Proximity searching: NEAR/X where X= the maximum number of words between the two terms in any order - chronic NEAR/2 pain retrieves chronic pain, chronic pelvic pain, and chronic low back pain, among others.
  • Truncation/asterisk: works on single words or at the end of phrases, including within quotes.

See in-database help for more tips.

 

Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (also known as CENTRAL) search syntax

  • Subject headings: MeSH. [mh "term"] for exploded terms; [mh ^"term"] for unexploded terms - [mh "Emergency Medical Services"]
  • Use Advanced Search: Search Manager for complex, multi-part searches
  • Limit search to Title field: :ti - "emergency services":ti
  • Limit search to Abstract field: :ab - "emergency services":ab
  • Limit search to Keywords field: :kw - "emergency services":tw
  • Search for term in Title, Abstract, and Keywords fields: :ti,ab,kw - "emergency services":ti,ab,kw
  • Proximity searching: NEAR/X where X=the maximum number of words between the two terms in any order - chronic NEAR/3 pain retrieves chronic pain, chronic pelvic pain, and chronic low back pain, among others.
  • Truncation/asterisk wildcard: works on single words but not in phrases. Can also use within words or at the beginning of words. Other wildcards available. Use NEXT for phrases.
  • NEXT: Finds the terms when they appear next to each other in the order specified. To use for phrase searching, place the terms in parentheses and join with NEXT - (health NEXT behavio*)
  • To limit to just CENTRAL, use the Limits button and select Trials.

See in-database help for more tips.

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"

Terms

  • 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 site:cdc.gov 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: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2466433

Advanced Searching in Google: https://sites.google.com/site/resourcesandsearchstrategies/google/advanced-searching-in-google

6 common misconceptions when doing advanced Google Searching: http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/2015/10/6-common-misconceptions-when-doing.html

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