Problems finding your search terms?

If you do not find what you are searching for, it can be a good idea to take a closer look into the full text of a published meta-analysis or systematic review and see how they have documented their search strategy and which keywords they have used for your search. You could e.g. take a look at sections 2 and 3 of the article:

Factors Contributing to Urban Malaria Transmission in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review
Prathiba M. De Silva and John M. Marshall
J Trop Med. 2012; 2012: 819563.

The keywords they used can be seen in Section 2.1 Literature search:
(urban OR urbanisation OR urbanization) AND (malaria OR Plasmodium OR Anopheles).

Find the same article in PubMed and other databases and see which keywords have been assigned to this article. This is a good way to find inspiration for which keywords you can use in your own search. Perhaps you had chosen keywords that had looked good on the surface, but weren’t yielding the results you expected.

Be aware of “hidden” functions
Databases and search engines are continually being developed to help users. Many of these functions are hidden for the user and can have great influence on which results are shown. Among these are:

  • Automatic truncation – different variants of the same word are automatically added to the search
  • Automatic keyword mapping – synonyms to search terms are found and mapped to keywords. For example a search for “cancer” in PubMed is automatically translated to also include the Mesh-term “neoplasms” It’s like magic!
  • Spelling suggestions – Some databases will suggest alternative search words if you have made a spelling error.
  • Personalised results – Google and Google Scholar personalise the results that you receive based on your prior searches, your language settings and geographic location. This means if someone else tries to perform the same search as you, they can get entirely different results.

If you are getting strange search results, try contacting your university library. An information specialist or librarian there can usually figure out why.

? Do you now know how to find what you are searching?
Test yourself

! Learn how to evaluate your search in:
Lesson 3: Evaluating sources

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