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HTH 354 Global & US Health Care Systems

Search Strategy Introduction

This page of your course guide provides an introduction to search techniques to find articles in any research database. 

Databases are structured very similarly and have some features in common. This means that if you can search one database effectively, then your skills are transferable to other databases. On this page, you will learn about:

  • Identifying the main concepts of your research query
  • Brainstorming search terms
  • Using your search terms in a database search

Identify Main Concepts

Break your topic into concepts (subjects). These concepts will form the building blocks of your search strategy. Databases don't like sentences. They can confuse the database leading to unsatisfying or FEW results. Just select the words that represent the main points of your topic. Keep in mind:


  • Good research topics usually contain 2-4 concepts. 
  • Topics with only one concept will usually retrieve too many results.
  • Topics with too many concepts may limit your results.


Example Question:

What is the status of vector-borne diseases in Venezuela? 


In this example, the main concepts are "vector-borne diseases" AND Venezuela. 


Brainstorm Search Terms

Databases look for the exact words and phrases you type in, so if the author uses a different word (synonym) to describe a concept, you will not see that article in your results. To mitigate this issue, you should identify alternative words for your main concepts. This process is called brainstorming. For each of your concepts jot down a list of synonyms or related words, alternate spellings,  plural and singular variations of the word and abbreviations. You can also think of broader or narrower terms. 

In our example above, you could narrow your topic to "mosquito-borne diseases" OR broaden your geographic scope and search for "South America". 

Watch the brief video on the left to see this process in action!


Keyword Searching in Databases

Pick databases that match the subject matter of your chosen topic. You can find a list of health sciences databases on this guide under Articles. It is always a good idea to search more than one database for a comprehensive search on a topic. Although there may be some overlap, each database contains different journals and provides different results.

Search Tips:

  • How you connect your search terms together can change the outcome of your searchDatabases use the Boolean Operators AND, OR, NOT to combine search terms. Most databases automatically use AND; this retrieves articles that contain ALL of the keywords. OR retrieves records that contain at least ONE of the search terms. NOT excludes records containing the second search term.
  • Using parentheses or quotes around search words is a common way to do phrase searching, but not all databases or search engines use them.
  • As a general rule, start with broad searches. Explore your results. After you have determined the best keywords, start to limit your search.

Finally, your liaison is a great resource! She can help you with all stages of your research process.