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Medicine: Scholarship in Medicine

Find specific resources for answering questions about medical topics


Welcome to the Scholarship in Medicine Research Guide!

Here you will find information on getting started with your research and using various library resources to help you complete your required scholarly project. Use the dropdown options under the "Scholarship in Medicine" tab to reach all of the content for the library modules of your Scholarship in Medicine class.

Besides the Medicine Research Guide with all of the content as seen in the tabs above, librarians have created guides to help you in all aspects of research. To the left of this box is a link "Browse all subject guides" to all of the subject oriented research guides, like biology, psychology, sociology, education, etc. Additionally, you see guides for specific topics: "Avoiding Plagiarism", "Copyright", "Citing Your Sources" and "Scholarly Articles".

Getting Started with Research

Once you have developed a good research question the next step is to learn to create a search strategy by working through the items below. Creating a search strategy means translating your question into a format that can be easily understood by the search engine connected to the resource you choose to use. 

  • Determine the most important key concepts in your question and identify synonymous words for each of the key concepts
  • Use the appropriate Boolean operators (and, or, not) to combine your key concepts (with the identified synonymous terms) into a search statement.  
  • Use advanced search options - truncation, filters, fields, phrases

Learn more about creating a search strategy in the short tutorials below.

Determine Key Concepts

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators form the basis of mathematical sets and database logic.

  • They connect your seach words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.
  • The three basic boolean operators are: ANDOR, and NOT.

Why use Boolean operators?

  • To focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms.
  • To connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you're looking for.
  • Example:
    (heart attack OR myocardial infarction) AND atrial fibrillation AND mortality

Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics

The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search. It is a small set using AND, the combination of all three search words.

Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied. 

  • For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between your search terms.
  • Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
  • For example, this search:  college students test anxiety  is translated to:  college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records.
  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific.
  • For example:  "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be.

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a big set because any of those words are valid using the OR operator.

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms
  • example:  cloning NOT sheep

Databases follow commands you type in and return results based on those commands. Be aware of the logical order in which words are connected when using Boolean operators: 

  • Databases usually recognize AND as the primary operator, and will connect concepts with AND together first.
  • If you use a combination of AND and OR operators in a search, enclose the words to be "ORed" together in parentheses.



  • ethics AND (cloning OR reproductive techniques)
  • (ethic* OR moral*) AND (bioengineering OR cloning)
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Advanced Search Options

Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end. Use the longest stem that you can. If your stem is too short, you may get search results with unexpected words.
  • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
  • Examples: 
    child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
    genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
  • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #

The most common truncation symbol is the asterisk - *  - (shift 8)

Filters vary depending on the database of choice. Some databases may call these "limiters" or ways to "refine" your search.

  • Typical filters include:
    • Publication years
    • Publication or document types
    • Language
  • Applying filters reduces your search retrieval. Filters should be used only after you see the results of your topic search.

What To Look For:

Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor

How Database Fields Improve Your Search

  • Limiting your search to specific database fields can yield more precise results.
  • For instance, if you are looking for books by Adam Smith instead of about him, it is more efficient to limit your search to the author field.
  • To find various fields within a database, look for drop down boxes or menus to select the field you want to search.
  • Then combine words and fields together with boolean or proximity operators, depending on how precise you want to be.
  • If you do not choose a specific field, the database usually reverts to a keyword search, where your words will be searched throughout the record.
  • If your keyword search retrieves too many records (more than 50), try narrowing your search to retrieve a more manageable result.
  • Information overload - too many results - can be a worse situation than finding only 10 very relevant results.

What To Look For:

  • Different databases interpret searches differently. A common variation is how databases recognize phrases.
  • Some assume that words typed next to each other should be searched as phrases.
  • Others automatically put a Boolean AND between your search terms, requiring that all the words be present, but not necessarily adjacent to each other.
  • These searches can retrieve very different results.

Phrase Searching Tips

Most databases allow you to specify that adjacent words be searched as phrases.

  • Using parentheses or quotes around search words is a common way to do phrase searching, but not all databases or search engines use them.
    • Example:  "genetic engineering"

Some databases allow you to specify that the words you are searching are within a certain proximity of each other. Proximity operators are more specific than Boolean operators and make your search more precise.

  • The "with" proximity operator (used like this - w# between two words) specifies that the words appear in the order you type them and must be within the number that you use to replace #.
    • Example:  Franklin w2 Roosevelt would find Franklin Roosevelt or Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Franklin D. Roosevelt, but not Roosevelt Franklin
  • The "near" proximity operator (used like this - n# between two words) specifics that the words are found within x number of words from each other, regardless of order.
    • Example: television n2 violence would find "television violence" or "violence on television" but not "television shows often have too much violence"

NOTE: PubMed does not have any kind of proximity searching. It also does not do a phrase search if you use quotes. If you use a phrase, the phrase might be in PubMed "phrase" index, in which case it will find your phrase. If your phrase is NOT in PubMed's phrase index, then PubMed defaults to an "AND" search.

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