Skip to main content

Literature Searching Help


Getting Started - before you start searching, you will need:



Students on placement


Search Strategy Tool: PICO

Using these tools below, you can break down your search into concepts 



P = Patient or Population

= Intervention

C = Comparator

O = Outcomes



What are the patient's demographics such as age, gender and ethnicity?  Or what is the or problem type?

Work-related neck muscle pain
I What type of intervention is being considered? For example is this a medication of some type, or exercise, or rest? Strength training of the painful muscle
C Is there a comparison treatment to be considered? The comparison may be with another medication, another form of treatment such as exercise, or no treatment at all. Rest
O What would be the desired effect you would like to see? What effects are not wanted? Are there any side effects involved with this form of testing or treatment? Pain relief


Tip! Keep a record of your search strategies, especially if you will need to use them as evidence.

To help you keep a record of your search terms, please download this PICO Search Record Sheet word document. 


Where to search?

You have access to a wide range of Clinical and Administrative Databases.

  • AMED - Allied & Complementary Medicine
  • British Nursing Database
  • CINAHL - Nursing & Allied Health
  • Cochrane - includes The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
  • Embase - Pharmacology & Toxicology
  • Health Administration Database - Health & Hospital Administration
  • HMIC - Health Management
  • Medline - Medical & Clinical
  • MIDIRS - Maternity & Infant Care
  • PsycINFO - Psychiatry
  • PubMed - openly accessible, no username or password required

To find out more and to access the databases, please follow this link to our eResources, Books and Journals page.




Searching Techniques

Key Words

A keyword search will generate results that have the word or phrase in the title or abstract. This can be a useful tool when searching for a brand or product, but can also generate irrelevant results, as the paper may reference the word or phrase briefly in comparison to the main topic of the paper. 


MeSH Subject Headings

Using the subject headings, you are essentially using the thesaurus of the database to generate results that are about your subject, for example, searching for the phrase Heart Attack in Medline, the MeSH term for this is Myocardial Infarction, the results generated will include papers about heart attack. 


AND/OR (boolean operators) - these are the functions to combine your searches

Use OR when combing searches of the same concept, for example Strengthening Exercise OR Resistance Training, this will then group these two searches together into one which you can then combine with your second concept. 

Use AND to combine your different concepts, for example, Osteoporosis AND Dietary Supplements.

This Venn Diagram may help illustrate this process:



This is used when you are searching a key word or phrase

Searching Diagnos* will search for, Diagnose, Diagnosing, Diagnostic, Diagnosed etc. The * replaces all the possible endings to the word. 

To search for a phrase, for example, weight loss plan, enter "weight loss plan", this will then search the phrase, rather than the individual words. 



A wildcard (a symbol, eg ? or #may be used to represent a single character anywhere in the word.  It is most useful when there are varying spellings of words, and you want to search for all variants at once, for example, searching for colo?r would find both colour and color. 

Each database can use wildcards differently; to find out what is used in each database, look for the "help" link (usually along the top of the screen).  



Proximity searching is a way to search for two or more words that occur within a certain number of words from each other.

Each database can use proximity differently; to find out what is used in each database, look for the "help" link (usually along the top of the screen). 



Once you have your results, you will then need to apply a set of limits, think about:

Date - this limit will remove papers that were published before the start date of the date range you select, for example the past three, five or ten years

Language - although the abstract may be in English, the full article may not be, this limit will exclude foreign language papers

Human - this should remove articles referencing trials using rats, sheep, mice etc

Hierarchy of Evidence - you can specify what level of evidence you want, this may be dependent on how much research there has been on your chosen topic. Please follow this link to access more information about the Hierarchy of Evidence.


Other Useful Tools


Sourcing Full Text Articles

When you have the references of papers you need for your review, you can source them from the library catalogue, NHS Wales LibrarySearch.

If you have any issues using the catalogue, please follow this link to access contact details for you nearest library.


Further Help

We are always available to support you with literature searching, literature reviews etc. If you would like to make an appointment with one of our Health Librarians, please contact your SBU Health Library.

Please note: some of the links on this page go to third party websites and as such they are out of our control and we are not responsible for their content. 

Share this page