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Ask A Librarian

Emergency Medicine

A guide with helpful resources for Emergency Medicine program's students, faculty, and staff.

Search Like a Pro

Once you know your main research topic, you will start putting together a search strategy. This tells the database what you want to search. Consider using Boolean Operators like AND/OR/NOT, and using synonyms. For example, looking for research about therapy dogs effect on long term patients? Some researchers use the term "dog," or maybe "canine," or maybe a specific breed like Golden Retrievers. You want to make sure you get ALL the relevant results possible for your research.

An example search strategy could be: Therapy dog OR therapy canine AND feelings OR attitude OR emotions OR emotional state AND long term patients OR long term care OR extended hospital stay

cats AND dogs, venn diagram filled in in the overlapping part: The article I need must have information about both cats AND dogs. It must mention both. Least results, more specific, more power. cats NOT dogs, venn diagram filled in on left side but not overlapping or right sides: I need an article about cats, but definitely NOT about dogs. I suppose it could include other animals as well as cats. less results, somewhat specific, least useful (in my opinion); cats OR dogs, venn diagram filled in completely on left, right, and overlapping parts: The article I need can be about cats OR dogs OR both. Really as long as it's one or the other, I'm good. More results, less specific, good power to use synonyms in your search

Remember that databases search terms not meanings. If you search with a "NOT dogs" everything that has the four letters DOGS will be excluded, whether it is an author's name, journal abbreviation, or found in the title/abstract. 

Conducting an In-depth Search

Sometimes you will need to explore a topic more fully, and will need to conduct a more comprehensive search. This is a big task, but creating a table like this can help you begin: 

Informational table, read by row: Row 1: Original concepts: therapy dog, feelings, long term patients. Row 2: synonyms: therapy canine, attitude, long term care. Row 3: Therapy pet, emotions, extended hospital stay. Row 4: Animal therapy, emotional state. Row 5: Mood. Row 6: Medical Subject Headings (MeSH terms), Animal assisted therapy [MeSH], Emotions [MeSH], Length of stay [MeSH]. End table

Creating a simple table like the one above, can be a really helpful guide to keeping your thoughts organized. 

  1. Write your original search concepts across the top of the page. 
  2. Come up with a list of synonyms related to each concept, the more the better (remember that not all authors use the same terms you may think to use). As you find articles that are highly relevant to what you want to research, look through that article's keywords. This is a really good way to "mine" for more synonyms, and get more relevant articles!
  3. Does the database you are using have a "controlled vocabulary?" If it does, make sure that you include those concepts. For example, the database PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH terms, as shown in the above table. Make sure to include those in your search strategy for best results. 
  4. Use the Boolean Operators we talked about to combine your search. Use OR to combine your synonyms, and use the term AND to combine your concepts.

Combining that all together, the above search strategy looks like this: 

Therapy dogs OR Therapy canine OR animal therapy OR Animal assisted therapy [MeSH] AND feelings OR attitude OR emotions OR emotional state OR mood OR Emotions [MeSH] AND long term patients OR long term care OR extended hospital stay OR Length of stay [MeSH]