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Nursing Portal: Database Searching 101

Your gateway to nursing research @ the University Libraries

What are the advantages of using a database?

There are several advantages in using a research database to find full-text journal articles on your topic.

  • Databases are subscription products made available to you from the UT Libraries, and they provide access to full-text content that is unavailable through free search engines on the web 
  • Databases index professional, scholarly, peer-reviewed literature
  • A variety of search options are available, from basic to advanced searching
  • Relevant filters and limiters are available to narrow down your search
  • Users can create accounts in databases to save searches and set-up e-mail alerts

Search Tips and Tricks

Strategy Function
Keyword Searching

Similar to "Google-like" searching where the database will retrieve results based on the terms you enter

Does not take into consideration the context of those terms

Typically retrieves several results, although many may not be relevant to the topic

Keyword searching is very flexible and is a good way to begin a search, especially if you are unsure of the correct terminology to use.  As you begin reading through your results, you may notice trends and patterns in terminology that you can then apply and adapt to your search strategy.   

Subject Heading Searching

A targeted, specific way to search using a database's built-in controlled vocabulary 

Various databases have their own subject headings - i.e. CINAHL Headings in CINAHL and the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in MEDLINE/PubMed.  

Controlled vocabulary subject headings function like a thesaurus and will take into consideration synonyms, abbreviations, and variations in spelling

Typically retrieves fewer results than keyword searching, yet results are oftentimes more relevant  

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators provide a logical way to combine keyword or subject heading terms using AND, OR, or NOT

"AND" will narrow your search by combining one of more terms together

"OR" will broaden your search by retrieving results on any of the terms you enter 

"NOT" will exclude designated terms from your results 

Phrase Searching

Use of quotes will tell the database to retrieve results with that exact phrase

"Algase Wandering Scale" 


Use of parentheses will group desired search terms together in combination with appropriate Boolean operators

(dementia OR "Alzheimer's disease") AND ("fall prevention" OR "fall risk assessment") 


Use of an asterisk * searches for the root of a word

nurs* will find nurse, nurses, nursing