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Biomedical and Health Informatics: Search Strategy Tips & Documentation

Information about and resources for Biomedical and Health Informatics

Search Concepts & Tips


This is a system of putting together your search terms. Boolean operators are: AND, OR, and NOT.

They do not always have to be capitalized but some databases do require that they are. You use these operators to put together the terms that you want to use for your search--you use OR between terms that are functionally equivalent for your purposes (teenager OR adolescent), AND between terms that you want your results to contain both/all of (teenager AND concussions), and NOT for any terms that you want entirely excluded (meaning that any document containing that term within its searched data will not be brought back).

Parentheses are used around terms that you are ORing together so that the system doesn't get confused when you have a search string that includes ANDs and  ORs. For examples: (teenager OR adolescent) AND concussions

This is a way of indicating that you are interested in additional variations on a string of letters. Most systems use * for truncation.
For example, teen* will get you all words that start with that initial string: teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, teenaged. Sometimes this can be very helpful, sometimes you may find you get too many variations. For example: arm* will get you arm and arms, but also army and armies.

Visual example of compiling a search string:

Image showing the anatomy of a search string with Boolean operators and truncation.

Documenting Your Search: BHIS Capstone

Necessary elements:

  •     A list of the databases that you searched
  •     The timeframe when you searched them
  •     What concepts you searched for, with an example of the search string you used in one of the databases
  •     Any limits used (such as date) along with an explanation for why those limits were used, which could include the technology of interest not being available prior to that time, or a policy of interest being enacted on a certain date
  •     Any inclusion/exclusion that you used for the studies that matched the above criteria


The databases PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, and PsycINFO were searched in March 2020. The concepts searched for were smart phones, type 1 diabetes, and adolescents. In each database, search terms and subject headings were used. In PubMed, the following search string was used: (“smart phones”[tiab] OR smartphone*[tiab] OR iPhone*[tiab] OR "Smartphone"[Mesh]) AND (diabetes[tiab] OR "Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1"[Mesh]) AND (teen*[tiab] OR adolescen*[tiab] OR "Adolescent"[Mesh]).

The search was limited to studies published after 2006 since the first iPhone was introduced in 2007. Studies that were not primary research were excluded, as well as articles that were in a language other English or Spanish.

Selecting A Research Topic