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Conducting a Literature Review for Health Sciences: Search Strategies

Search Tactics for Searching


  • Combine keywords with AND and OR
  • Field searching: search by title, author, keyword, source, etc
  • Sort by Relevance, Newest, etc.

  • Subjet searching in each database (MeSH, Thesaurus, CINAHL Headings, Subject Terms)
  • Use the database's limiters (e.g. limit by "peer-review", year, English-language)

Keywords vs. Subject Headings

  • To pinpoint your keywords, use subject searching (use subject headings--controlled vocabulary of a database). 
  • Some keywords have assigned subject headings while others do not. 
  • To find if your keyword(s) have a suggested subject heading,
    look for a link to the Thesaurus, Subject Terms, MeSH, CINAHL Headings (names varies depending on database).
  • Some databases do not allow subject searching (that is, they don't have a thesaurus). 
  • Spell out acronyms.  For example, "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act"  for HIPAA

  • Whenever possible, include on your search synonyms or alternative terms to describe your topic. 
    For example:  (youth OR adolescent OR teenager)
    For example: (therapy OR intervention OR program OR treatment)

Also consider other search tactics such as Truncation and Field Searching.

Consult Your Librarian

Research support from subject specialist/liaison librarians.  Librarians can help you with...

  • Developing your search strategy
  • Identifying keywords and finding the full-text (whole article)
  • Suggest relevant databases to search
  • Managing your references with citation management tools (e.g. Zotero, EndNoteWeb)
  • and more