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Searching systematically: Acquire - Build your search strategy

How to search systematically, from developing a good research question to managing your search results

A typical search...

  • Use Subject headings (MeSH, Emtree, etc.)
  • Use free keywords in Title/Abstract or the entire text of the articles

MeSH is is the National Library of Medicine (NLM) controlled vocabulary thesaurus used for indexing articles for PubMed. It is also used in Medline, Cochrane, CINAHL (called CINAHAL Headings). Emtree is the controlled vocabulary used in Embase and is very similar to MeSH.

Systematic Searching Terminology


The Boolean operator OR is used to search for all the potential keywords for one topic or element of the PICO or SPIDER

The Boolean operator AND is used to combine different topics or elements of the PICO/SPIDER

See example of a search at the end of this page.

Search Syntax

Each databases has its own wildcard, truncation and proximity symbols!

Read the help sheet in the database to familiarise yourself with its specific search syntax

Interactive tutorial

This lesson covers aspects such as:

  • identifying different sources of information
  • ensuring good practice in referencing and citations
  • ensuring academic integrity in the use of materials
  • suggestions and advice.

developed by NUI Galway, University College Dublin, the University of Limerick, and Mary Immaculate College Limerick

How to find keywords to include in your Title/Abstract/Fulltext search - insert tutorial /podcast(finding "gold articles in Google Scholar", browsing Mesh/Emtree)

Using MeSH in Medline/Cinahl (EBSCO)

Using MeSH in Pubmed new interface

Search example

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