Skip to Main Content

Search Smarter: Finding information for the Health Sciences: Search Smarter

A guide on how to find information for assignments and research in the Health arena.

Step 1 - Keywords

Step 1 - Identify the keywords/concepts in your research question

Keywords are the main words, concepts or phrases that outline what your topic is about.

Keywords/concepts are used to search:

  • The Library catalogue
  • Databases
  • The Internet

Learn more about keywords

Step 4 - Limits

Step 4 - Apply limits to your search

Health databases have a fantastic range of limits you can apply to your search some include:

  • Date ranges (last 5-10 years)
  • Human studies (vs animal studies.  Medline covers Vet Science as well as human health)
  • Type of publication (review vs Clinical trial vs randomised trial etc.)
  • Male/female (where a disease may be carried by one sex but presents and effects the other)
  • Age of patient (treatment for a child vs a 40 year old vs an 80 year old may be different)
  • Language (article abstracts are in English but the full-text may be in a foreign language so choose english)

Learn more about limits

Step 2 - Synonyms

Step 2 - Identify possible synonyms

Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. Synonyms can be:

  • Different spellings of the same word eg. pediatrics or paediatrics
  • Same meanings but a different word eg. cancer OR tumor OR tumour OR neoplasm
  • The singular/plural form or different endings of the same word eg. splint OR splints OR splinting
  • Abbreviations eg. CVA OR cerebral vascular accident

To identify relevant synonyms use:

  • Thesauri
  • Dictionaries (JCU has an online dictionary collection available via Credo)
  • Encyclopedias
  • Talk to other people (lecturers, tutors, peer group)

Learn more about synonyms

Step 5 - Search Strategy

Step 5 - Formulate and execute your search strategy

Add your keywords and your synonyms together using Boolean terms

AND  allow us to narrow our search. 
example:  malaria AND mosquito*

OR broadens our search
example: obes* OR overweight OR "over weight"

NOT excludes a term we don't want
example: radiation NOT nuclear

Learn more about Boolean

Step 3 - Truncation and Phrasing

Step 3 - Identify truncation and phrase searching opportunities


Uses a symbol (usually the asterisk *) to find different variations of the same word stem:

  • Therap* would find therapy, therapies and therapeutic 
  • Child* would find child, childs, children, childhood and childers
  • Rehab* would find rehab, rehabilitate, rehabilitated and rehabilitation

Phrase searching

When there is a concept that is a phrase, we use inverted commas ("  " ) to stop the words from being separated:

  • "Evidence based"
  • "physical therapy"
  • "physician assistant"
  • "World Health Organisation"

Learn more about truncation and phrase searching

Step 6 - Evaluation

Step 6 - Evaluate your results to see if further refinement is required

After you have completed your search, look at the results.  Do they provide you with the sort of results you were expecting? If not why not? You may need to change your search to give a better result. 

If you find a couple of articles that help answer your topic, look at how that database describes them (subject headings/keywords).  they may provide some words you should add to your search.

Learn more about evaluating results

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.