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HSC 320: Applied Medical / Healthcare Ethics: Searching Strategies

Integrates the theory and practice of ethics within health-related disciplines and the application of bioethics by health science professionals, including health disparities.

Research Database Search Strategies - Examples with PubMed

General Searching Tips for most research databases, including PubMed, CINAHL, Google Scholar:

  • Use " " to search for a specific phrase like "electronic health records"
  • Use * to get all forms of a word: child* = child, children, childhood
  • Use ( ) with OR between synonyms to group synonyms for expanded searching: (AZ OR Arizona)
  • Use AND between synonym groups to add groups together in keyword searching: (AZ OR Arizona) AND (child* OR adolescen* OR teen*)

CINAHL Research Database TipFor a Keyword Search, un-check the 'Suggest Subject Headings' box above the search boxes - then type in your Keywords and search


4 Search Strategies

Start with your topic statement, or with a Research or PICO Question

The examples below start with this research question as a starting point: 

  • Who makes decisions about health care? What are some ethical decisions to consider regarding autonomy and end of life care?

Use the 2 Broad Strategies  - Keyword and Keyword with Synonyms

  • Get a Snap Shot of a Research Database: how much and what type of material does it have on your topic?
  • Broaden your initial search with synonym groups to get more results

Use the 2 Targeted Strategies - Keyword in Title and Subject Heading

  • Focus in on the most relevant results for your topic and use these to discover database Subject Heading tags that can match you to articles that have major coverage of a topic - regardless of the phrasing or keyword terms used by each individual author
  • Use Subject Headings tags to discover articles that have major coverage of a topic - regardless of the phrasing or keyword terms used by each individual author in their title or abstract


2 Broad Strategies

  • Keyword
    • Pull out the major concepts from your topic or research question and connect them with AND
    • Example: "end of life care" AND autonomy


  • Keyword with Synonyms
    • Look at your basic keyword results.  Take note of and consider synonyms and different word forms for each of your keyword concepts.  For example, synonyms or other word forms for "end of life care" include: palliative care; another word for autonomy could be decision-making
    • Create a new, more complex keyword searching by creating synonym groups using () around each group
    • Use OR between each synonym or word form in the ()
    • Use AND between each () group
    • Example: ("end of life care" OR palliative care) AND (autonomy OR decision*) AND (ethic* OR policy OR law)



2 Targeted Strategies

  • Keyword in Title
    • Article Titles often contain the main ideas of an article's content - so finding results with your keywords in the article title will often increase the relevance of results for your topic
      • *One Disadvantage is that searching for keywords in the title will *not* find all things that will be useful, but it's a good way to focus in and discover some excellent results that can help you further define your topic and give you ideas for more specific keywords or Subject Headings tags that you can use in other ways to get more results that are still more relevant.
    • Use your synonym search
    • Add the code: [ti] or [title] after each keyword
      • In this case, childhood obesity is so specific as a phrase, I left it as keywords only, and only added the code to search the title after the other keywords
    • Example: ("end of life"[ti] OR palliative[ti]) AND (autonomy[ti] OR decision[ti]) AND (ethic* OR policy OR law)

    • Other databases' Advanced Search mode
      • You may be able to use the dropdown to the left or right of a search box to choose the field you search, such as 'TITLE' or 'ARTICLE TITLE' or 'ABSTRACT' instead of the default which is often 'ALL Fields' or 'Select a Field,' etc.
      • Use separate rows if you like to help you structure the search (you may or may not need to use () if you use separate rows):
      • With some research databases, you may need to use () around more than one synonym with 'OR' between them to the database that you want any word within each group, and you want at least 1 word from each group. 


  • Subject Headings
    • Subject Headings connect you to results relevant to your topic, even if you don't think of all the different words (keywords) that someone might use to describe the topic 
    • Use Mesh Headings, Medical Subject Headings in PubMed (or 'subject headings' if in another research database) that you saw in the results of your other searches
      • Example: In records for our earlier searches, we could see the following MeSH subject headings
        • Terminal Care
        • Personal Autonomy
        • Decision Making
    • Add the code: [mh] or [mesh] after each heading
    • Example: Terminal Care[mh] AND (Personal Autonomy[mh] OR Decision Making[mh] OR Decision Support Techniques[mh]) AND ethic*


Subject Guide

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Kevin Pardon
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