Skip to Main Content

4th Year Dentistry Essentials: Searching

Identifying keywords

It is important to find all the relevant keywords for the topic to ensure the search is comprehensive by identifying

  •  different spellings, tenses and word variants of keywords
  • synonyms
  • related concepts

There are many  ways to locate these terms, including background reading, dictionaries, regular and database thesauri or subject headings and text mining tools. The process of searching will also help identify more terms.

Databases to search

Controlled Vocabulary Natural Language (Keyword)
Description: Databases that provide a list of subject terms in the form of thesauri, subject headings or taxonomies. Subjects are added to each record by staff using a predefined list of terms. Natural Language databases allow searching by any words selected by the user.
Example Databases:



CINAHL (nursing & allied health)

Emcare (nursing & allied health)


Social Science database (Proquest)

Scopus (multidisciplinary)

Web of Science (multidisciplinary)

Informit (Australian, multidisciplinary)

Many Proquest databases


All articles on topic indexed by same heading

Able to identify articles that may not seem to be related by keywords

Easy to search for any word

Can combine all concepts into a single search


Cannot find results if the right subject heading is not used.

More time consuming as each concept or term must be searchd separately to get best results and then combine the separate searches

You must think of all the relevant terms yourself to find all the relevant literature

Best practice for using:

Look for checkboxes marked 'Map term to heading' or 'Suggest subject terms' to be directed to relevant subject headings when searching for a keyword.

If there are no checkboxes, look for a link to the Thesaurus.

Also search for keywords as well to find articles not yet assigned subject headings or to find articles when a relevant heading has been missed.

Use a thesaurus or other reference book to find related terms. Use a textbook or a database like Credo

Keep a list of terms when reading and other searches to help identify more terms that may be relevant.

Use a search strategy

Structure the search strategy carefully to maximise results.

Using Boolean operators can be very important to get the most appropriate results. It is important to check the database help pages to find out the way these operators work within different databases.

Think carefully about how the search terms are related to work out when OR or NOT can be applied most effectively.

Phrase searching should be used where there are obvious terms that belong together. However consider also whether terms would always be put together and whether a phrase may restrict the search too much. Sometimes using proximity operators will work better when words may appear close to each other.

Truncation and Wildcards finds different endings or spellings of words.

See more about developing your search strategy

We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country

Creative Commons Licence
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. Content from this Guide should be attributed to James Cook University Library. This does not apply to images, third party material (seek permission from the original owner) or any logos or insignia belonging to JCU or other bodies, which remain All Rights Reserved.