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Healthcare Informatics Library Research Module

Search Essentials

Search Essentials

In this video, you will learn some of the basics of conducting database searches.

Video Transcript


Search Essentials

In this video, you will learn some of the basics of conducting database searches.

Most academic databases have multiple search fields as their default setting. This multi-field format allows users to perform Boolean Searches, which means searching for two or more terms by defining their relationship with one another using the operators AND, OR, and NOT.

The operators provide you with greater control over your search terms, and with them you can focus your searches by:

  • Using AND to narrow down searches by specifying all the terms that you want to see present together in your results
  • Using OR to broaden your searches by including similar terms or concepts
  • And by using NOT to narrow down searches by excluding specific terms from your search results


Whenever you have a new topic, explore the available literature from a broad starting point and then narrow your searches down further from there. For example, you could start off with a general search for bed alarm AND falls. Note: The order of your search terms does not matter; what matters is the operator you choose to search with. In this example, AND specifies that you want these two terms included together in your results.
Advanced Search with And

After performing an initial search, you can narrow down the total results further by using AND to specify other terms that you would like to see present in the search results. For example, if you were looking for articles about elderly patients, then that could be specified by adding elderly in another search field. You can continue to narrow down your search by adding more search fields as needed.
Advanced Search with And


To broaden your search, use OR to include synonyms, alternative terms, or similar topics. You can choose to use OR to connect separate search fields. You can also type OR inside the search fields to make a string of two or more terms. In this case, you could construct your search with “elderly OR geriatric OR older”, allowing you to cast a wider net with just a single search.
Advanced Search with Or

Databases will often provide suggested strings of synonyms or similar topics as you type in your own search terms. Feel free to use these as they come up, editing them if necessary.


You can also narrow down a search further by using NOT. For example, you could specify NOT hospitals inside a new search field to exclude articles that mention that exact term.
Advanced Search with Not

Of course, you could perform a similar action by using AND to specify the exact kind of non-hospital setting you were searching for.
Advanced Search with Not

Beyond Boolean

Using the AND and NOT operators aren’t the only ways that you can narrow down and specify searches. Academic databases provide various limiting options that you can use, including publication date and source type. For most of these limits, it will be entirely optional whether you want to use them or not. However, you may be required to limit your search results to peer-reviewed sources only, and to limit the publication date to a specific range, like the last five years.

Occasionally you will have a topic where there will be one or more seminal studies that are older than your assigned publication date range that are still widely cited in the most up-to-date research. Exceptions like this should be fine as long as you check with your instructor first.

You can also narrow down search results by specifying your exact search phrases. Many databases will automatically treat any phrase or term that is two words or longer as if all the words are all defined with the AND operator. As you may have experienced already, this will lead to results that include the exact search phrase, and results that just have all the different words in a phrase present. To avoid this, you can put quotes around any exact phrase that you want to see in your search results. The quotes will specify that you want all the words between them together in that exact order.
Advanced Search with Quotation Marks

Database searching is very much a trial by error process. There are usually multiple combinations of search terms and operators that can be used to explore the available research on any topic. Be sure to allow yourself patience as you conduct database searches and experiment with different search terms, and of course, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to your librarians whenever you feel like you need assistance.

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