Health Sciences: Search Strategies & Tips

This guide provides resources, services, and tools of interest to VT researchers investigating health topics and initiatives, including across disciplines and VT Beyond Boundaries' areas: 'Integrated Health and Wellness,' and 'The Adaptive Brain.'

A bit of History

A bit of history!
Boolean operators are named for George Boole (1815-1864), an English Mathematician and Philosopher.  Boolean Algebra and Symbolic Logic both derive from his work.  Boole is generally considered the father of modern computer science.  Most electronic indexes (databases) require the use of Boolean operators in parsing search terms, although this is not always apparent.  Boolean search statements are incredibly powerful in retrieving what you need provided 1) the statement is formatted correctly and 2) your choice of search terms is correct for the topic you are researching.  

Searching Tips

Rather than typing a full sentence or question into a search box, using Boolean operators can help you create an efficient and effective database search. Try the Search Strategy Builder, which will create searches out of keywords that you supply!

In order to use Boolean operators, you need to know:

Boolean operators

  • AND:  both terms that you connect with AND msut be somehwere in the bibliographic record for that record to be retrieved.  AND narrows a search and retrieves fewer articles

  • OR:  only one of the search terms combined with OR is required for the bibliographic record t5o be retrieved.  OR broadens a search and retrieves more articles

  • NOT:  excludes a particular subset, category, or term.  NOT requires the presence of one search term and the exclusion of another.

Other special symbols: 

Truncation:  A symbol, specific to the search interface, which allows the retrieval of all endings for the specified base word. An asterisk (*) isoften used.  For example, child* would retrieve records with children, childish, and every other word that begins with the root word "child."  

Wildcard:  A symbol, specific to the search interface, which allows the retrieval of various spellings of a word. A questio mark is often used.  For example, wom?n would retrieve records with women or woman.  

Quotation marks: To search for an exact phrase with the words together, in the order you wish to find them, add " " quotation marks around the phrase, such as "physical activity" versus finding an article about physical education and an activity for elementary school students.


Example Boolean search statements using symbols:
(Calcium AND milk) NOT goat
child* AND anxiety AND (exercise OR "physical activity")
alcohol AND medication AND (elderly OR aged OR older adults)
alcohol AND "drug interactions" AND (elderly OR aged OR older adults)
alcohol AND ("medication interactions" OR "drug interactions") AND (elderly OR aged OR older adults)
alcohol AND (medication interactions OR "drug interactions") AND (elderly OR aged OR older adults)
clostridium difficile AND malnutrition AND (elderly OR aged OR older adults)
clostridium difficile AND (nutrition OR diet OR malnutrition) AND (elderly OR aged OR older adults)

Creating a Search

How do you develop keywords from a research topic?  Watch this short video to find out!