HLTH 3315: Health Promotion Programs: Search Strategy


Search Strategy & Tips

  1. State your topic or research question in your own words. Natural language searches often work well in OneSearch, but for individual subject databases:
  2. Identify the most important keywords (usually the substantive nouns) or short, commonly used phrases.
  3. Think of variations (singular, plural) and synonyms for your terms.
  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.
  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:
   euthanasia or assisted suicide   (finds either term)
   ethic   (finds ethic, ethics, ethically, etc.)

Find less (narrow your results) with AND:
   genetically modified food and corn   (finds both terms)

Find less with NOT:
   stem cells not embryo*   (excludes records that mention embryo, embryos, etc.)

Sample search statement:
   genetic testing and (moral* or ethic*)

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 or "human" or "animals" in MEDLINE)
  • 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

Sample Searches

  • Subject terms, while helpful for focusing results, sometimes are not assigned until after the initial posting of a record. You also may want to try using subject terms as simple keywords (i.e., without requiring them to appear in the subjects field).
  • Subject terms can vary from one database to another
  • 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

Shows a search for bioethics OR ethics in the SU Subjects field and stem cell* with a wildcard with a limiter for English language and a refinement to academic journals


  • MEDLINE also includes a Bioethics subject subset limiter, which may return different results than using keywords

Shows search for genetic testing in Subjects field and discrimination with limiters for English language and subject subset Bioethics

  • Results in Web of Science can be sorted by times cited

Shows search for exact phrase "genetic testing" and ethics or bioethics or morality

Enter your search terms, and select a desired category:

  • Everything -- most library resources, both online (UHCL) and physical (UHCL, UH, and UHD)
  • UHCL Books and Media -- Neumann Library and Pearland Library's books, ebooks, and physical and digital media
  • All UH Books and Media -- UH, UHCL, and UHD physical books, DVDs, and CDs
  • Articles -- peer-reviewed journal articles, newspaper articles, and more
  • Course Reserves -- searchable by course or instructor
  • Institutional Respository @ UHCL -- digitized scholarship and creative works produced and owned by the UHCL community

Simple search example

When searching Everything or Articles, natural language often works well.


  • how climate change affects polar bears
  • how to motivate people to exercise

For Books and Media, keywords or short, common phrases usually work better. Use quotation marks for an "exact phrase."


  • "climate change" "polar bears"
  • motivation exercise

You also can search a digital object identifier (DOI) or  International  Standard Book Number (ISBN) for a known item.


  • 10.1007/s00442-017-3839-y
  • 0838987753

For more complex searches like (climate change OR global warming) AND polar bears, use Advanced Search.

Once you have a set of results, select and apply relevant filters (e.g., peer-reviewed journals, available online, etc.) on the left of the screen.

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