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Systematic searching: 7. Running the search in databases

Searching in databases

After carefully building and reviewing your search strings, it is time to carry out the actual search. Each database works slightly differently, so each search should be carried out according to the rules of each database. Below you can find examples of systematic searches carried out in Medline (PubMed), Scopus and CINAHL.

The example searches in PubMed and CINAHL use the so-called Building block method. This method is useful in that it allows you to study the search results by groups of concepts before combining them with the AND operator.

Most databases allow you to create a personal account, so you can save your searches directly in the database. You are then able to edit the saved searches at a later time, or easily re-run them.

1. In PubMed, go to Advanced Search

2. Copy and paste the first PubMed group of concepts into the Query box. (Note that the top search box is not needed in this example search since all the search terms have been tagged with a Field tag.)

3. Instead of clicking Search, add the search to the search history by selecting Add to History from the drop-down menu. The search history appears below the query box. Remember to check possible notifications PubMed gives you about your search query. 

4. Repeat the process with the remaining groups of concepts. 

5. Now combine the searches by typing the search identification numbers into the query box and combining them with the AND operator, as shown in the image below. You can also combine the searches using the Actions menu. 

6. View the search results by clicking the number of search results. 

7. How to email, save or export the results, and how to set up an alert service, see: A roadmap for searching literature in PubMed (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and How to sign up to a PubMed account with third party credentials (Google, Facebook, ORCiD).

Search date: 1 June 2021. 

1.Copy your Scopus groups of concepts and paste them into the search boxes, each on their own box. Add more search fields, if needed, by clicking the Add search field button. After this, click Search


2. Scopus takes you directly to the search result list. If you need to edit your search, you can do that by clicking the Edit button. If you use the new Scopus interface, choose Search link on top of the page.


3. Clicking the Edit button will take you back to your search view, where you can also see your search history. Clicking the number of search results takes you back to your search results.

4. How to print or save the search results: How do I email, print, or create a bibliography, or save documents to PDF format? 
How to work with saved searches: How do I manage my Saved searches?

Search date: 10 May 2021

1. In CINAHL, go to Advanced Search.

2. Copy the first group of concepts from your search phrase table and paste it into the top search box. Click the Search button to run the search. Your search will be saved in the search history. You can open your search history by clicking the Search History button below the search boxes. 

3. After this, delete your search string from the search box, and replace it with your second group of concepts. Run the search by clicking Search

4. Repeat the same process with your last group of concepts. After this, all three searches are saved in your search history. 

5. Now combine the searches by checking the boxes on the left hand side of each saved search and clicking the Search with AND button.

NOTE. Before running the search, remember to again delete your latest search string from the search box. Otherwise these search strings will also be included in your upcoming search. 

The final search is displayed on top of the search history.

6. Click View Results to view your search results. 

7. See instructions for Saving and Retrieving Searches in CINAHL. For copying or printing your search history, select Print Search History.

Search date: 10 May 2021