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Searching Strategies - why bother?

   "From the standpoint of general effectiveness in searching,... the searcher with the widest range of search strategies available is the searcher with the greatest retrieval power."

Marcia J. Bates,THE DESIGN OF BROWSING AND BERRYPICKING TECHNIQUES FOR THE ONLINE SEARCH INTERFACE, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of California at Los Angeles


Pubmed citations to RefWorks

Importing Citation from PubMed to RefWorks

In PubMed:

  1. Click in the box to the left of desired records
  2. From the Send To option:
    • select File as your Destination 
    • select Medline as your Format 
    • select a Sort By option 
    • click the Create File button
  3. Open the file (or alternatively Save the file to your desktop)
  4. Use the browser's Edit and Select All to select all of the records.
  5. Copy the records using Edit and Copy.

In RefWorks:

  1. Login to your RefWorks account if you have not already done so.
  2. Click on References and Import at the top of the screen.
  3. Select NLM PubMed from the Import Filter/Data Source drop down menu.
  4. Select PubMed from the Database drop-down menu.
  5. Click in the radio button next to Import Data from the following Text.
  6. Click in the text box, and click on Edit and Paste. Your records will appear in the text box. (or alternatively browse to find the file you saved on your desktop). 
  7. Click on Import.
  8. Your citation(s) will automatically be imported into the Last Imported Folder.
    You may view the records or move them to the folder of your choice.


PubMed Sample Search - Obesity Diet Exercise

Search History

Search Most Recent Queries Time Result
#27 Search #21 Limits: Humans, Comparative Study, Controlled Clinical Trial, Evaluation Studies, Multicenter Study, Validation Studies, English, Adolescent: 13-18 years 10:03:06 166
#26 Search #21 Limits: Humans, Clinical Trial, Randomized Controlled Trial, English, Adolescent: 13-18 years 10:01:52 186
#25 Search  Limits: Humans, Clinical Trial, Randomized Controlled Trial, English, Adolescent: 13-18 years 10:01:22 98696
#24 Search #21 Limits: Humans, English, Systematic Reviews, Adolescent: 13-18 years 10:00:44 44
#23 Search #21 Limits: Humans, Meta-Analysis, English, Adolescent: 13-18 years 10:00:20 8
#22 Search  Limits: Humans, Meta-Analysis, English, Adolescent: 13-18 years 09:59:33 2142
#21 Search (((((#1) OR #2) OR #3) OR #4) OR #20 09:58:49 6257
#20 Search ((#9) AND #15) AND #19 09:57:20 3756
#19 Search "Diet"[Mesh] OR "Nutrition Therapy"[Mesh] 09:56:51 199133
#15 Search "Exercise"[Mesh] OR "Exercise Therapy"[Mesh] 09:54:34 72844
#9 Search ("Body Weight"[Mesh] OR "Overweight"[Mesh]) OR "Obesity"[Mesh] 09:50:42 289025
#4 Search weight [ti] diet [ti] exercise [ti] 09:47:04 94
#3 Search overweight [ti] diet [ti] exercise [ti] 09:46:54 33
#2 Search obesity [ti] diet [ti] exercise [ti] 09:46:20 49
#1 Search obesity diet exercise 09:45:51 5332
Begin with Default Search Strategy
Next use Title Search Strategy
Next use Synonym Strategy
Next use MeSH Strategy
Next combine all results from all search strategies using "OR" and then apply LIMITS. This retrieves articles both assigned MeSH and those that have not been assigned MeSH.
Next use LIMITS to retrieve only human, English, adolescents
Next use LIMITs to retrieve only specific document types, i.e. Meta-Analysis, Systematic Reviews, Clinical Trials.....

"Learn4" A set of Search Strategies

Learn about search strategies and what they do.

         When you enter keywords into a database, you are also entering a search strategy.  Does your strategy add speed and relevancy to your retrieved citations? 


Begin each search with a PICO research question.

  PICO Question | Acronym to remind you of elements/keywords to identify when forming a research question.    

         (P=population, I=Intervention, C=Comparison, O=Outcome/Measurement)


In college students (P) are dietary/nutrition interventions (I) effective compared to no dietary interventions (C) in preventing weight gain?



Browser Search Strategy is the DEFAULT strategy in most databases and retrieves all citations with your PICO keywords appearing somewhere.

Below, example of PICO keywords entered to prompt a DEFAULT search within a database. For instance, PubMED searches the following search strategy as "find all citations with my PICO keywords mentioned somewhere".

 college weight gain diet   

college AND weight gain AND diet

Advantage= you retrieve all citations where your PICO keywords appear somewhere in the title, abstract, and other searchable fields, usually not a search of the full-text articleDisadvantage = you retrieve citations even when your PICO keywords are not the related, don't answer your PICO question, and are not the major focus of the article. If you retrieve too many articles, you waste time weeding that you need for assignments or workplace best practices.


The Title Search Strategy is the favorite search strategy for "getting started"  because it quickly targets citations with your major PICO keywords appearing in the TITLE, which increases the relevancy of retrieved articles. Don't forget the added bonus of the list of references at the end of the article - already vetted by the author. 

Just enter [ti] (bracket ti bracket) after each of your PICO keywords in PubMed or use the Advanced Search mode in most other databases and change the drop down menu to TITLE.

college [ti] weight [ti] diet [ti]

...more synonyms require isolation and parentheses around each PICO element and insertion of AND to separate, see following example

(college [ti] OR freshman [ti] OR undergraduate [ti]) AND (diet [ti] OR fruits [ti] OR vegetables [ti])

Advantage= you retrieve all citations where your PICO keywords appear somewhere in the title, which increases your chances that the article will be relevant to your PICO question. Disadvantage = you could miss citations where the author/researcher uses a different keyword for your PICO element, which requires you to note other keywords that are used for you PICO elements and search using those, too.

Below, example of the Bulls-eye strategy entered into PubMed.  Most other databases provide an Advanced Search mode and drop down menus that you can change to a TITLE search.

college [ti] weight [ti] fruit [ti]   

college [ti] weight [ti] vegetables [ti]

(college [ti] OR undergraduates [ti] OR campus [ti] OR freshman [ti])  AND  weight [ti] AND (fruits [ti] OR vegetables [ti] OR diet [ti])


The Evidence-based Strategy is the most rigorous search strategy using all search strategies and searching all relevant databases. Advantage=This strategy is meant to identify all best evidence and, within reasonable certainty, confirm that no relevant evidence is missed.Disadvantage=This rigorous SS requires extensive time and organization/documentation of citations and search history and is more often required for major papers, projects, and evidence-based practice.

Default SS              college weight diet         

Title  SS                 college [ti] weight [ti] diet [ti]    

  ...more synonyms    (college [ti] OR campus [ti] OR undergraduates [ti] OR freshmen [ti])

                                   AND      (diet [ti] OR fruit [ti] OR vegetables [ti]          


The MeSH  uses the power of MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) in PubMed to increase relevancy, speed,  and rigor in the retrieval of citations.  Advantages= This strategy retrieves citations where your topic is at least 25% of the focus, where other synonyms are already mapped to the term, and any other major narrow terms that you may not know about or remember are also retrieved. Disadvantages=Although MeSH is powerful, there can be delays in assigning MeSH to terms for a variety of reasons so that both the keyword and MeSH search strategy should be searched in PubMed to perform a rigorous search.

    universities [mh] weight gain [mh] diet [mh]      

    universities [mh]  AND (fruits [mh] diet [mh] vegetables [mh])


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