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NRS420 Research Skills Guide: Find & Record

Find the literature

Once you've decided on your chronic condition and worked out the keywords and phrases you are going to use, you need to work out:

  • How you are going to combine your searches using various search techniques
  • Which databases you're going to use to search for the information

This section of the NRS420 guide will give you some help with documenting your search strategy, and some common tips (below). The other tabs give you more information about:

Have a look at the Search Techniques section of our Database Help Library Guide for a detailed explanation of search techniques and using other databases.

Document your search strategy

In the Methods and Results section of Assessment 1 you are asked to document your search strategy. This involves listing the databases and search terms you used and your inclusion and exclusion criteria. You will also need to provide information about how many articles you found in each database and how you whittled that down to the results included in your review.

Here is some information that might help you with each of these steps:

Documenting your search strategy - how to write the strategy out so that it is reproducible by others.

Managing your results - see the sections here on the Prisma Flowchart and EndNote

Common Search Tips

There are a number of techniques you can use while searching to get better and more relevant results.

Basic and advanced search

Basic search usually involves one search box, with a few options about searching a specific collection or field. This is great for general searching. When you have multiple keywords or complex search queries, using Advanced search can be helpful. This usually involves several different boxes for your different keywords, built-in search operators, and more options for field searching and limiters.

Most databases will have a link to Advanced Search next to their Basic search option. Advanced Search in Google Scholar is accessible from the menu.

Search operators

Use these with your keywords to refine your searches and specify exactly what you want to find. These are most useful in journal databases and Primo Search. (Some of them won't work as well in Google Scholar.)

Search Operator Example
Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. police AND federal
Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. politics OR government
Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results. canine NOT dental
Group terms or equivalent keywords with parentheses to create complex searches. (tertiary OR university) AND education
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase "lung cancer"
Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. manag* = manage, managed, managing, management
A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word. analy?e = analyse, analyze

Field searching and limiters

Most databases will allow you to specify which field you want to search. Common fields include author, title, dates, and subject headings/topic, and these are usually available in both basic and advanced search. 

Once you've searched, you can also limit your results by some of these fields. This is extremely useful if you want all of your articles to have been published within a certain date range, or for them all to be peer-reviewed. Look for these in the menus beside your search results. 

Get better search results

Proximity Searching

A proximity search forces a database to find results where one search term appears within a certain number of words of another search term. The proximity operator varies according to the database. 

Examples from an EBSCOhost database:  

employability N3 higher education  (N=near) This will find results where employability is within 3 words of higher education in any order

employability W3 higher education (W=within) This will find results where employability is within 3 words of higher education  in the order in which you entered the search terms