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The Royal College of Surgeons of England


Searching in Ovid Databases

Advanced Searching

If you want to do a systematic search, combining lots of different keywords, use subject headings and limits, you should use Ovid’s advanced search options.

Advanced search is available as a tab on the same screen as the basic search that has already been covered, click on Advanced Search to see them:

Structuring your search

The best way to use Ovid is to split your research question into keywords or phrases. You can use PICO (Patient Intervention Comparison Outcome) to help you to refine your research question and organise your search terms. When planning search terms you should also think about synonyms fpr them, as this will help you retrieve more relevant content.

It is often easiest to search for one keyword at a time. Ovid displays the results of each search line-by-line in your search history. You can then use these to build a stronger, more flexible search. This also allows you to spot weak links more easily, e.g. if one aspect of your search yields fewer results than you might expect.

So, for the research question fires in operating theatres caused by alcohol skin preparations, you could use the following search lines:

  1. Search for fire and all its synonyms
  2. Operating theatres and all synonyms
  3. Alcohol preparations and all synonyms.

The Search History box allows you to combine the different searches:

You can combine searches using ANDOR (also known as Boolean operators).

  • OR searches across terms, increasing the number of results. It is useful for synonyms or related terms. If you searched for fire OR operating theatres, you would be given those articles containing the word fire, those containing operating theatres and those with both words in them.
  • AND reduces the number of results, giving you a more focused search. You will use AND in the majority of searches at some stage, to find results that match your original question. If you wanted to find out about fires in operating theatres caused by alcohol skin preparations, you would search for fire AND operating theatres AND alcohol preparation (search lines 1-3 above). This would only produce results where all the search phrases are included in the article, cutting the number of results.

The following diagram may help to explain AND / OR:

  • Searching for fire OR operating theatre would retrieve results from both the blue circle and the red circle, including the overlapping section.
  • Searching for fire AND operating theatre would only retrieve results from the overlapping section of the two circles, cutting down the number of results.

Executing your search

On the advanced search form, type your keyword into the search box and click Search:


Using the buttons above the search box, you can search for your terms as keywords, in the author field, in the article title or in the title of a journal. You can use the Expand Term Finder tool to help you locate additional suitable search terms.

Optionally, check Map Term to Subject Heading if you want your search to use subject heading systems, such as MeSH and EMTREE. In this case, Search will take you to a list of subject headings that most closely match the term you typed into the search box. Select the headings that match your topic of interest by ticking the relevant heading and then click Continue:

Subject headings are assigned to each individual record in Ovid, helping the searcher to find relevant journal articles with more precision. However, articles may take up to 6 months to be given their subject headings, so they should be used in conjunction with other search terms in order to retrieve all relevant content.

  • Select – search for articles indexed with this heading.
  • Explode – subject headings are hierarchical, so there may be more focused sub-headings of relevance to your search, clicking on the subject heading itself will show the sub-headings.
  • Focus – the article has been classified as having this subject heading as its main focus, this can be useful but should be used with caution as an article can still be interesting even if the subject is not its focus.
  • Scope – the scope note for the heading will appear, this explains how it is used, sometimes you may get similar looking headings and this can help you to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Operating (not highlighted in blue) – Ovid will search for articles with the subject headings you’ve selected, AND any journal articles with the words operating theatres in them. This can be useful to get more relevant search results, but don’t forget your synonyms.

Before hitting Continue ensure that you have kept the combine selections with option on OR otherwise you will retrieve far fewer results.

The results of your search will be displayed. Once you’ve completed searches for all your keywords, you can combine searches in Search History: click Search History to expand the box:

Click in the boxes to the left of the numbers to select searches to combine, then click and or or. Your combined search results will appear in a new line (see search 4 above).

Click Display Results on the right hand side of the page to look at the results for any query.

Viewing your results

On your results list, clicking Abstract under View will show you the citation information plus the abstract:

You can select individual records by ticking the box next to their number, then you can print, email, export (as a Word document) or “Add to My Projects” (to add the individual article reference to your Ovid account).

It can also be useful to look in the individual records to see which subject headings have been used to help structure or refine your search strategy: