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Finding clinical and scientific literature (transition skills): Search tips

Search tips

This page gives you some tips on how to plan and structure a search before you run it on, for example, open access journal websites.
Plan before you search

Open access journal websites may contain links to thousands, if not millions, of articles. Therefore, it is important to be as accurate and specific as possible when searching these websites, to ensure that you aren't overwhelmed with results. Below are some tips to help you develop an effective search plan.

1. Be clear and concise

Try to express your search topic as a clear and concise statement, for example:

"I want to find research about smoking as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease"

2. Identify key concepts

After coming up with your search statement, remove any irrelevant or 'filler' words (i.e. words that you don't actually need to search for):

"I want to find research about smoking as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease"

Then identify the key concepts that remain:

Concept 1: smoking

Concept 2: risk factor

Concept 3: cardiovascular disease

3. Combine different concepts with AND

Type AND between your different search concepts. This will ensure that your search finds results that are about all of your concepts, rather than just some of them:

smoking AND risk factor AND cardiovascular disease

4. Define phrases using "..."

If any of your concepts are phrases, rather than just one word, consider enclosing them in quotation marks: i.e. "..."

This will ensure that your search looks for the words in the phrase beside each other, rather than separately.

If any of your concepts is a single, stand-alone word, there is no need to put quotation marks around it.

smoking AND "risk factor" AND "cardiovascular disease"

Adding quotation marks for phrase searching doesn't always work, but is effective when using many major journal and publisher websites, helping to minimise the number of irrelevant results found.

5. Other things to consider

The following tips are optional, but can help make your search even more effective:


The more synonyms, or similar terms, for concepts that you include in your search, the more effective your search will be at finding relevant results. Group synonyms or similar terms together in brackets (...) and type OR between them:

(smoking OR tobacco) AND ("risk factor" OR susceptibility) AND ("cardiovascular disease" OR "cardiovascular disorder" OR CVD)


Consider typing an asterisk * at the end of word stems. The asterisk is the truncation symbol on many websites, and can be used to find different word endings.

Here's a general example: smok* will find smoking, but also smoke, smoked, smoker, smokers etc.  

So it can be worth identifying words in your search plan that may have different endings, and adding asterisks where appropriate.

(smok* OR tobacco) AND ("risk factor*" OR susceptibility) AND ("cardiovascular disease*" OR "cardiovascular disorder*" OR CVD)

6. Be flexible
Following the above steps will produce a plan that you can use to search various journal and other websites.

However, don't stick to this plan too rigidly. The search functionality of different websites varies considerably, so you may need to amend or simplify your search in order to run it effectively.

Many websites will feature advice or video tutorials, so look out for these if you run into problems, or consult a librarian if you have access to one.