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Psychiatry: Literature Searching

Getting Started

This page provides you with some help with the basics of searching the journal literature. More advanced help for higher degree students is on a separate page.

I've divided this page into a number of sections:

  • Boolean Logic - don't be put off by the name. It's simply named after George Boole, who invented it.

Boolean logic

Before you start it's really important that you understand the use of Boolean (logical) operators AND, OR, NOT to connect your search terms. All databases and search engines (including Google) use Boolean logic.

If your logic isn't correct your search is likely to retrieve huge numbers of irrelevant articles, so it's worth getting it right.

PubMed's tutorial takes you step by step through how Boolean logic works.

There's a short video, from the University of Auckland Library which gives a very clear explanation of the basics.

The Hunter Library at the Western Carolina University has produced a video which gives an excellent demonstration of the use of parentheses in searching. You will find that understanding how they work is very important for most of your searches.
It's called "What the heck is Boolean searching?" - who would have thought that Boolean logic could be so entertaining - you'll never look at a peanut butter sandwich in the same way again!

Truncation (or wildcards)

Wildcards or truncation involve using a symbol, generally an asterisk (*), at the end of a word or word stem to find variants of that word.

Click here to see a chart which compares wildcard options for a range of databases.

Although an asterisk (*) is the most common one, symbols vary from database to database.

In most databases an asterisk allows for any number of characters, or the absence of a character at the end of a word or word stem. For example - aborig* will find aborigine, aborigines, aboriginal, aboriginality.
It's the only truncation symbol used in PubMed, and this is how it works.

Filed Names or Tags

Field names or tags can be very helpful in telling databases where to look for the words you use. Many databases have a default setting which looks for words in all fields. Scopus, our largest database (and probably the easiest to use) is preset to search the fields Article Title, Abstract or Keyword. With all databases you can change the default settings to suit your search, and you'll find details of available field names in my help notes for each individual database. They're on the psychiatry home page in the Quick Links section on the left.

My Advanced Searching notes give examples of more complex use of field names.

Formulating Your Search Strategy

Before you search for information you'll need to formulate a search strategy. Below are some tips on how to do this. Practice helps, and there is no such thing as the perfect search - a strategy which may be fine for an essay would be totally inadequate for a thesis topic.

1. Identify the key concepts.

2. Work out alternative terms for these concepts.

3. Decide whether you want to restrict your search to a certain population or group

4. Decide whether you want to restrict your search to a particular type of article - e.g. systematic reviews.

5. You may find it helps to clarify your thinking if you use a logic grid, in which you group related concepts or synonyms - see the example below

An Example using a Logic Grid

Supposing you want to find information about self concept and weight problems in adolescent girls. Setting out your search in a logic grid makes it easy to see the logical structure of your search.

As there are four distinct concepts involved in this search we will use four columns in our grid.

When searching phrases many databases (including Scopus) require you to use inverted commas (quotation marks) to ensure that the words are searched together. Always check the rules for each database - it would make life simpler if they all worked the same way BUT THEY DON'T.

This is not a comprehensive search, but shows some options.


Self Concept Weight Problems Adolescent Girls

"self concept"
"self perception"
"body image"
"self esteem"

"weight gain"
"weight loss"
"body weight"




Once you have completed your lists of words or phrases to search, the grid shows you how to combine them.

Terms in each column are connected with OR, then sets from each column are connected using AND.

Remember to use parentheses around the sets of terms in each column to protect the logic of your search, and to make sure that each term in every column matches up with each term in the other columns.

Click here to check on Boolean logic (the use of logical operators, and the importance of parentheses in search strategies).

This is how your search will look

("self concept" OR "self perception" OR "body image" OR "self esteem") AND ("weight gain" OR obesity OR "weight loss" OR "body weight") AND (adolesc* OR teen*) AND (girl* OR female*)

In some databases like Scopus you can use individual search boxes instead of parentheses.

Try running this search in Scopus - here's a video to show you how


Use the Add search field tab to add extra search boxes

You will need 4 - one for each column.

The terms from the first column, connected by OR, appear in the first search box,

The terms from the second column, connected by OR, appear in the second box,

The terms from the third column, connected by OR, appear in the third search box,

The terms from the fourth column, connected by OR, appear in the fourth search box,

When you click on Search, the four sets of terms are then combined using AND

 This search finds lots of articles, but the newest are at the top of the list, and they are probably the ones you'll want to use.

So you can see that building a search is really quite simple - rather like making up a series of detailed shopping lists, and then combining them.

Scopus Citation Searching - from a single reference to many more

Scopus is one of our biggest databases, and it's very easy to use. One of its most valuable features is its ability to let you explore all of the references from a single article, as well as the more recent articles which have included this article in their reference list. This is called citation searching.

So if someone has given you a really good article, here's an easy way to find additional material - using just that one reference!

To see how this works:-

• Copy and paste the title of the article below (enclosed in inverted commas) into the Scopus Search box.

"Body Mass Index and Body Weight Perception as Risk Factors for Internalizing and Externalizing Problem Behavior Among Adolescents"

• Set the in box to Article Title, and search


• Once the result is displayed

you will have the following options:

  • Access the full text of the article by using the Check fulltext options tab
  • View the abstract and references of the article by clicking on the article title - you will then be able to find full text for the references from the bibliography at the end of the article, and the number of times they have been cited
  • View a list or articles which have subsequently cited this reference by clicking on the 85 at the right of the display

So from a single article you can explore a wide range of related material.