EXHS 5130: Epidemiology: Search Strategy

Finding Scholarly Articles on Your Topic

These tutorials include practice in Neumann Library web-based resources and self-quiz questions to help you check your understanding.

Search Strategy & Tips

  1. State your topic or research question in your own words (example: "What.effects can poverty have on diet?")
  2. Identify the most important keywords (usually the nouns) or short, commonly used phrases (example: poverty, diet).
  3. Think of variations (singular, plural) and synonyms for your terms (example: poverty, poor, low income). It may help to check Thesaurus.com.
  4. Create an initial search statement using connectors or logical operators (especially AND, OR) and, if appropriate, wildcards.
  5. Try it out in one or more databases and/or Library Catalog.
  6. Look for other good keywords and subject terms in search results.
  7. Try revised searches until you're satisfied with the results.
  8. Depending on the volume of results, consider narrowing or broadening your topic.
  9. If you're having difficulties, contact us.

Find more (broaden your results) with OR and wildcards:
   diet or nutrition     (finds either term)
   nutri*     (finds nutrition, nutrient, nutritional, etc.)

Find less (narrow your results) with AND:
   diet and nutrition   (finds only records that have both terms)

Find less with NOT:
   diet not weight loss   (excludes records that discuss weight loss)

Sample search statement:
poverty AND (diet OR nutri*)

Limiters can help to improve the relevance and focus of results:

  • Narrow results with standard  limiters (peer-reviewed, date; document type; language; etc.)
  • Some databases allows quotation marks for an "exact phrase"
  • In databases for a specific subject discipline, look for specialized limiters (such as role of organism in Biological Abstracts)
  • Try restricting some terms to the title or abstract field
  • Try restricting some terms to the subject or descriptors field. Subject terms can vary from database to database, but using them usually improves relevance so look for them in results displays and detailed records. Some databases include a subject terms thesaurus.


  • Look for different, relevant keywords or subject terms to try
  • Simplify your search by removing less critical search terms or limiters
  • Expand some terms to the all text or full text field, if provided
  • Try a different database or OneSearch

Essential Tools for Online Searching: AND, OR, and Wildcards

(1:43) Learn how logical operators AND and OR work to help you get good results in library research databases.

(1:55) Learn how to retrieve varying forms of a word and improve search results.

Using Individual Resources

  • While MeSH subject headings can be helpful for focusing results, sometimes they are not assigned until weeks after an article is placed in the database. To find the most recent articles, you also may want to try using keyword searches (i.e., without requiring them to appear in the subjects field).
  • The SU Subjects field in MEDLINE with Full Text includes both MeSH (National Library of Medicine medical subject headings) and "contributed indexing" keywords.
  • Don't limit to full text when you're exploring a topic in depth. You'll miss full text that's available via Find It @ UHCL.
  • Some limiters such as source type, which includes Academic Journals, only are available in the "Refine results" panel on the left side of search results screens

  • Academic Search Complete does not contain as many medical and public health journals as MEDLINE, but it does contain other journals that can be useful depending on your research topic.
  • Subject terms can vary from one database to another.  For example, cancer is classified under the neoplasms MeSH heading in MEDLINE, but classified under cancer in Academic Seach Complete.

Enter keyword searches or choose Subject Guide Search to build your search from the database's subject headings.

Connectors and wildcards also work in the book catalog.  Relatively simple searches usually work well. To include limiters such as format, language, etc., use Advanced Search.

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