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Researcher Skills Toolkit

Search and manage results

4. Search and manage results


When you are ready to search the databases it's important to have an understanding of how to search effectively. There are a number of techniques you can use to retrieve relevant search results.

After you have completed your search and identified the results that you need, most databases allow you to print, save, export or email the article citation and abstract.

Click the tabs below for more information about searching for and managing your results.

University of Newcastle databases can be accessed via the Library’s A-Z Database list or the Subject Resource Guides

Each database includes inbuilt help to assist with specific questions about using the database.

Your Research Liaison Librarian can also advise on the most appropriate databases to use. 

Many databases categorise records using subject headings, which are standardised terms that describe a source's content. Searching by a subject heading will limit your results to works that share the same heading, making the results much narrower in scope than those produced by a general search.

Using subject headings can require some experimentation as it might take multiple attempts to identify which headings are the most effective. You may also find that using only subject headings can narrow down your search results too much.  Some databases list subject headings in a thesaurus, available within the database. These lists may show broader and narrower relationships between different subject headings, and it is useful to check them for any additional terms which can be used in your search. 

 Each database may use different symbols or rules as search operators. These are known as syntax.

While Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) are common across all scholarly databases, other search operators will vary.

For example, the proximity operator in the OVID databases (Medline, Embase and PsycINFO) is ‘ADJ’ followed by a number representing the number of terms between two set of terms.

In the EBSCO databases, adjacent searches are represented by 'N'.

In the ProQuest databases adjacent searches are represented by n/.

OVID (infant* or child*) ADJ3 (health* or mortality)
EBSCO (infant* or child*) N3 (health* or mortality) 
Proquest (infant* or child*) n/3 (health* or mortality)

Database records separate information into fields relating to the title, author names, publication date and subject headings of the record. 

Some databases use abbreviations for these fields, for example: SU - Subjects, AU - Author, TI - Article Title or AB - Abstract.

These abbreviations are called 'field codes'. You can limit your search to these specific fields.

Field searching is particularly helpful when:

  • you require documents written by a specific author 

  • you know the title of the document needed 

  • you are using a subject heading to pinpoint a search 

  • you require records that specifically mention a search term(s) in an abstract

Most databases allow you to apply limits to eliminate irrelevant results and restrict searches in particular fields.

These can include: 

  • Publication type e.g. journal articles, case studies   

  • Date range e.g. the last 5 years 

  • Peer-reviewed items 

  • Language in which the source is written or translated into.

It is best practice to ensure that each line of your database search contains one term, rather than multiple terms.

For example, enter: 

Search number Keyword
1 teen*
2 adolescen*
3 youth
4 1 OR 2 OR 3

Rather than: 

Search 1  Teen* OR adolescen* OR youth 

This technique ensures that problems in the search (such as spelling mistakes) are identified more easily.

Entering line by line also makes it easier to identify terms that are commonly used within the database. 

Snowballing is the process of using a key document located in searches to identify other references which may be useful.

Snowballing can also be used to check references included in the bibliographies of articles identified as useful for your research.

The disadvantage of this method is that the process is retrospective; each source located will be older than the previous one.

Databases tend to sort result lists by relevance. However, it is usually possible to change the sort order to another option.

For example:

  • Publication date
  • Times cited
  • Most relevant
  • Full text only

These options may vary depending on the database.

Subject headings and search syntax may differ between databases. It is important to adjust your search strategy to reflect this when translating a search across multiple databases. 


Boolean operators may also differ between databases so check the help links for any variations.

The PRESS 2015 Guideline Evidence-Based Checklist provides the following considerations for reviewing the quality of searches.

Translation of the research question

  • Does the search strategy match the research question?
  • Are the search concepts clear?
  • Are there too many or too few concepts included?
  • Are the search concepts too narrow or too broad?
  • Does the search retrieve too many or too few records?
  • Are unconventional or complex strategies explained?

Boolean and proximity operators

  • Are Boolean or proximity operators used correctly?
  • Is the use of nesting with brackets appropriate and effective for the search?
  • If NOT is used, is this likely to result in any unintended exclusions?
  • Could precision be improved by using proximity operators or phrase searching instead of AND?
  • Is the width of proximity operators suitable (e.g. might adj5 pick up more variants than adj2)?

Subject headings

  • Are the subject headings relevant?
  • Are any relevant subject headings missing, e.g. previous index terms?
  • Are any subject headings too broad or too narrow?
  • Are subject headings exploded where necessary and vice versa?

Keyword searching

  • Does the search include all spelling variants in free text (e.g. UK and US spelling)?
  • Does the search include all synonyms or antonyms (e.g. opposites)?
  • Does the search capture relevant truncation (i.e. is truncation at the correct place)?
  • Is the truncation too broad or too narrow?
  • Are acronyms or abbreviations used appropriately? Do they capture irrelevant material? Are the full terms also included?
  • Are the keywords specific enough or too broad? Are there too many or too few keywords used? Are stop words used?
  • Have the appropriate fields been searched, for example, is the choice of the text word fields (.tw. in Ovid) or all fields (.af. in Ovid) appropriate? Are there any other fields to be included or excluded?
  • Should any long strings be broken into several shorter search statements?

Spelling, syntax, and line errors

  • Are there any spelling errors?
  • Are there any errors in system syntax?
  • Are there incorrect line combinations or orphan lines (i.e. lines that are not referred to in the final summation that could indicate an error in an AND or OR statement)?

Limits and filters

  • Are all limits and filters used appropriately?
  • Are the limits and filters used relevant given the research question?
  • Are the limits and filters used relevant for the database?
  • Are any potentially helpful limits or filters missing?
  • Are the limits or filters too broad or too narrow?
  • Can any limits or filters be added or taken away?
  • Are sources cited for the filters used?

Saving your searches is a crucial part of the research process and ensures: 

  • Changes in your research focus are captured. This helps to document what has worked, and what has not 

  • Easy re-running of searches 

  • If publishing the review, essential details are available for writing the methodology section. 

To save your searches, you will need to create a personal account within each database that you use.  It is a good idea to use a naming convention for your saved searches. Include details of the search topic, the version number of the search, and the date on which you conducted the search. 

The way that you record this information will depend on your personal preferences and research practices. Information is often recorded in an Excel spreadsheet or in a Word table. The most important thing is to find a method that works for you and to be consistent.

What should be recorded? 

  • The full search strategy used. It is preferable to reproduce the strategy with a minimum of editing. 

  • Any filters used 

  • A list of all databases searched 

  • The vendors for each database 

  • The number of results retrieved 

  • The date on which searches were run. For consistency in reporting database results, all searches should be conducted on the same date. 

  • Which searches were the most successful (in terms of included results). 

The PRISMA flow diagram and PRISMA checklist provide standard formats for reporting the number of records identified in database searches, hand-searching, and grey literature searches. 

Using a citation management program, such as EndNote, is a great way to keep track of all the resources that you are using for your research. 

EndNote allows you to

  • Create a personal library to collect, store and manage references and full-text documents 

  • Search and retrieve references from databases 

  • Insert in-text citations and create reference lists in your chosen referencing style in Microsoft Word 

  • Share references or an entire library with others.

In this video University of Newcastle researchers discuss how they keep track of references using software like EndNote.

More advanced features in EndNote allow you to: 

  • Organise your library into groups, so that you can order your citations in meaningful ways 

  • De-duplicate your reference list 

  • Attach full text pdfs to your citations 

  • Add annotations, tags, and highlights to pdfs 

 You can streamline your research and save time inserting citations in your writing by setting up your EndNote library at the start of your research project, and refining as you progress. 

Download EndNote and view EndNote help resources in the library’s EndNote guide

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