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Search Strategies for Any Database

Using Truncation (or word roots)

Computers can be quite literal when it comes to interpreting our commands. In most library databases, when you search for a word, it will look for exactly that word in the titles and abstracts of articles. That can be quite limiting, however, because when you search for "educate," the computer won't make the leap to include articles that use the words "educates," "educated," "educational."

Truncation is a trick that let's you tell the computer to search for the root of a word with any ending. So in the example at the top of the box, when we chop off the end of the word and add an asterisk, all of the sudden our search has expanded to include

  • truncation
  • truncate
  • truncated
  • truncating

... and so on

Using Quotation Marks

Quotation marks around two or more words tell a database search engine that you only want to find articles where those words appear right next to each other.

This can be quite helpful for phrases such as "physical therapy" or "physician assistant," where there could be tons of articles that use those words separately and have nothing to do with physical therapy or physician assistants.

However, be careful. If you use this too much, you can severely limit the articles you see and very likely miss out on useful ones. 

Searching with Subject Headings

What are Subject Headings

Databases assign these words to articles to describe the concepts in an article and to try to take some of the guesswork out of the job of coming up with keywords. Try searching with subject headings and see how your results differ from searching with just keywords.


Still unsure about subject headings? Watch this video for another explanation.

Asking a Clinical Question with PICO(T)

Asking an answerable clinical question...and making your database searching much easier in the process.

Use this PICO(T) template to craft your question and then use this PICO(T) worksheet to help develop your own topic.