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Athletic Training: Search Tips & Strategies

Guide for the Athletic Training Program.

Page Outline

There are many ways to search.  Scoll on down and find the tips that work for you & your project. 

This page covers:

  • Getting Started
  • Combining your terms & Boolean
  • Subject Terms & Keywords
  • Ancestry Searching

Scroll down to see more!

    Getting Started

    Use multiple databases/search engines.  There will be overlap in what you find, but each will have something unique.   The following should be helpful for most if not all searches.  All of these are available off of our website either under quick links or All Resources:

    MEDLINE or PubMed (basically the same database, just different search interface)


    Extrapolation is key.  Keep in mind that you may have to pull pieces of information from various articles to make your point.  You may not – probably won’t – find the perfect article that sums up your position.  (If you do find that perfect article, it actually means that you should pick another topic as someone has beaten you to the idea!)

    Take notes as you go.  It’s really hard to find or document things after the fact.  (I’ve found this out the hard way!)  So tract where you search, the terms you use, and the citations you find as you go.  Paper or online doesn’t matter.  Just track it.  Zotero can help with tracking your citations. 

    Also, if an article looks *remotely* useful, make note of it.  It’s always easier to cross it off later than try to find it again.  (Sometimes you can’t find it again.  I’ve learned that the hard way too.)

    Combining Terms & Boolean

    Start with one concept at a time.  That way you can mix and match search sets.  Start with one and add the others one at a time. You might need to mix and match them in different combinations. Also, you might find that you can only use two concepts together out of three.  When you have multiple concepts it’s easy to end up with nothing. 

    Combine terms with OR to get more results.   If there isn’t much on your topic, combine terms ( e.g.  subject terms & the keyword terms) with OR to find the most articles.  A search on walking aids in PubMed might look like: 

    walkers OR canes OR crutches OR walking aid

    Combine terms with AND to get fewer results & to bring topics together.  To combine the search on walking aids with the topic of hip fracture, you need to combine the two searches with an AND.  In PubMed, it can look like: 

    #4    Search #1 AND #2 Limits: English
    #3    Search #1 AND #2       
    #2    Search hip fracture
    #1    Search walkers OR canes OR crutches OR walking aid        

    You can also type it out in one line like this:   (walkers OR canes OR crutches OR walking aid) AND hip fracture

    Note:  if you search walking aids in the plural, PubMed will translate 'aids' to the disease 'acquired immunodeficiency syndrome'

    What does Boolean mean?   George Boole was a mathmetician who had the happy thought that you can combine sets with AND, OR, NOT.  Boolean Logic is named after him.   Simple as that.

    Subject Terms & Keywords

    Spell out terms.  Typing STM into PubMed won't get you articles on short term memory – PubMed doesn’t figure out the acronym.   However, if you type out short term memory, PubMed will find the MeSH (medical subject term) 'Memory, short-term' plus textwords.  So, for better results searching on  abbreviations & acronyms, type 'em out!

    Use available subject terms.   In PubMed, for example, searching 'memory loss' takes you to 'Memory Disorders' as a MeSH term.  This usually gets you more results and also allows you to use the Explode feature. 

    Explode when using subject terms.   If you look at the MeSH term 'Memory Disorders' in the MeSH database, you’ll see that there are more terms indented underneath.   PubMed automatically includes these terms in your search.   That is, the term 'Memory Disorder' is exploded to include the more specific terms.   

    In the case of 'Memory Disorders' exploding gets you 5 more MeSH terms.  This is like getting 5 more file folders of articles which are NOT included in the broader term Memory Disorders.

                  Memory Disorders
                                  Amnesia, Anterograde
                                  Amnesia, Retrograde
                                  Amnesia, Transient Global
                   Korsakoff Syndrome

     Look for additional terms to search on in titles, abstracts, assigned subject terms, and full text of articles.   You might find that there are additional terms that you can search on.  In the walking aids example, other terms are: canes, crutches, and walkers.   Not everyone in a specific specialty or field uses the same terms when writing up articles.  Trick is to find the terms that they do use.    Once you find the terms, re-do the search.  This is why I break my searches in to separate topics.  I can then mix and match them without having to retype everything.

    Check the subject terms used by the database/search engine you are in.   Each one has a different focus and therefore, can use a different term for the same idea.  You can also use this as a way to find additional terms that you can add into your search.

    Ancestry Searching - Don't Throw Out Older Articles!

    You can find good articles by looking at References and Cited by.  

    References are the articles and documents listed in an article's bibliography or reference list.  This will take you into the past, to older articles.   

    You can travel to the future by looking at Citing articles or Cited by links in search engines such as CINAHL, Scopus, or Google Scholar. Say you have an article from 2000 and you want something more current. You can search it by title in Scopus.  If the article is found, check to see if there is a  number on the far right under the Cited column.  Clicking on that number will take you to the more current articles that used the original one in their footnote section.