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Biomedical Engineering

Search Tips

Example topic: osteoporosis after steroid treatment of ulcerative colitis

ID the key concepts of your question, in this case—



ulcerative colitis

Come up with related terms for each key concept.
TIP! Use the UT Libraries Generate Search Terms tool to create search strategies like the one below.

In some databases, it can be helpful to use truncation to search for terms that begin with a word root.


will search for

osteoporosis, osteoporoses, osteoporotic, osteoporotically...

First, search each key concept separately (lines #1, #2, #3). Consult the database’s search history to see how many hits your terms produce. Big numbers are your friend. If there are too few hits for a key concept, add more synonyms or some broader terms. If there are too many hits, remove terms and/or use narrower terms.

Then combine search lines, as shown (lines #4, #5).

Searchers routinely ask some variation of these questions:

"How many search results is a good number to have?" 

"I got 47 search results. Is that enough?" 

"I have 2800 search results. Is that too many?"

The highly unsatisfying answer is, IT DEPENDS.

What are you working on? Systematic reviews and scoping reviews, for example, need sensitive searches--comprehensive searches that attempt, as near as possible, to identify all relevant articles. On the other hand, a class assignment on a topic may only require a specific search--a search that attempts to identify a set of highly relevant articles, and which will likely yield a smaller number of search results.

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