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NURS7701/8021: Adv. & Translational Research: Home

Conducting a Literature Search

In this class, you will be conducting a literature search while following the steps explained in Ovid Synthesis. This library guide provides additional resources to those in Webcampus to help you complete these searches, including what is a database, how to develop key terms, and how to search using Boolean operators. If you need help searching using Ovid Synthesis or a library database, please contact us!

What is a database? Why use one?

A library database is an online searchable collection of information. Libraries buy subscriptions to databases so students, staff, and faculty can find useful, quality, and trustworthy information. Databases can help you find peer-reviewed articles, evidence-based practice studies, case studies, primary sources, dissertations, multimedia, and more.

Library databases are trusted, quality resources that are vetted by the library and the university. Results can also be sorted by year, source type, peer-reviewed, subject, and more so that results are expertly tailored to your search.

Want to learn more about using library databases? Use the information below or check out our Databases 101: Basic and Advanced Searching guide.

Determining Key Terms

Now that you have selected a topic and a database that will be useful to your search, the next step is to determine KEY TERMS that will be used to conduct your search within a database. Unlike Google and other search engines that can be searched using full statements, databases use key terms to search their vast resources. Key terms are search words that describe your topic. Consider the following example:

If your topic was: "How does alcohol consumption affect rates of depression in teenagers," the key terms may be:

  • • Alcohol consumption
  • • Depression
  • • Teenagers

Searching using these key terms will hopefully return helpful results. However, it is important to consider alternate key terms for your search that may fit your subject better and yield additional or more specific results:

  • • Wine, beer, spirits, liquor, etc.
  • • Mood, despair, etc.
  • • Adolescents, high school students, college students, etc.

Once you have your key terms, you are ready to use the database.

While searching using these key terms will hopefully return helpful results, it is important to consider alternate key terms for your search that may fit your subject better. For example, if your search is about heart attacks portrayed in television, using "heart attack" will likely be the best term to use. However, if your search is about heart attacks in diabetic patients, "myocardial infarction" may be better suited. 

For this search about alcohol consumption and depression in teenagers, the following key terms may yield additional or more specific results:

  • • Wine, beer, spirits, liquor, etc.
  • • Mood, despair, etc.
  • • Adolescents, high school students, college students, etc.

A helpful tool to help you find these terms is Credo Reference, which has a subject term map when you search a topic. See below:

image of credo subject terms map

This tool can be helpful when you are first starting to explore the most common subject terms relating to a larger topic. It can be a great way to find other subjects to research and help you narrow your topic. 

Gale databases, linked here, have a helpful feature on their front page, Topic Finder. This tool takes a topic that you search and creates a visualization of subject terms that are commonly used in articles about that topic. You can find this button when you scroll down their home page: 

gale topic finder button
You can search almost any topic here and Gale will populate either a "Tile" style visualization of subject terms relating to your topic, which looks like the image below:
gale tile topic finder
Or you can do the "Wheel" style, which looks like the image below: 
Gale wheel topic finder
In both options, you can click a topic and Gale will search throughout their databases for articles relating to that area of the topic. The topics are organized by most common as the largest pieces to the less common ones being smaller.
This can be helpful when you are trying to narrow down your topic. Gale is an academic database that contains research and articles that can help you with a wide array of topics of research. For example, Gale Literature is a great resource for articles about literature, analyzing literature, and criticism of literature. To see all of the subject specific databases from Gale that we have to offer, they are linked here.

Utilizing tools like the Thesaurus or Mind Mup can assist you in discovering these key words. By mapping out ideas, or using the Thesaurus to come up with synonyms, usually both together, we can discover new key words that can help us to discover better resources in databases. 

See below as an example of a Mind Map to help brainstorm key words: 

mind map on mind mup for the topic of teenage drinking


While this is not a necessary step, this can be very helpful to organize ideas, find new key words, and also organize sources as you find them. You can copy and paste citations or titles of articles relating to topics here and later on utilize this as an outline for your research project.

Advanced/Boolean Search Strategies

While using one key term can yield helpful results, utilizing more than one key term by using Boolean operators in between can narrow your search from general results to more relevant results. The recommended place to start is using the word AND within your search.

To search using AND, simply type AND between your KEY TERMS.

For example: 

Alcohol consumption AND depression
Alcohol consumption AND depression AND teenagers

While just using alcohol consumption may yield thousands of results on any subject, using AND and another key term such as depression or teenagers will narrow your search to also including those terms in your results.


Using OR between KEY TERMS can broaden your search from a small number of results to a larger number of results. A search using OR between key terms will return results that include any of the KEY TERMS. 

To search using OR simply type OR between your KEY TERMS.

See the example below:

A search for TEENAGERS AND ALCOHOL USE returned 3,716 results


A search for ADOLESCENTS AND ALCOHOL USE returned 5,478 results


A search for (TEENAGERS OR ADOLESCENT) AND ALCOHOL USE returned 5,988 results. This search will include all results which deal either with teenagers or adolescents and alcohol use. 


Quotation marks tell the system that you would like to see the whole phrase, in the order in which the words appear.

For example, if you were doing a search for "screen time", and you didn't use quotes, the database would search for results that have the words screen and time individually. You will get results for resources for the words screen and time, as well as 'screen time', making your results list much longer and less relevant.

Without quotations, you get results for both the phrase 'screen time', but also results for 'time' and 'screen' separately. This means that you are guaranteed to see more irrelevant results, and have a larger number of results in total. 

Image of search without quotation marks, where search results are less relevant and precise.


When we use quotation marks, we bring down our total number of results from 4,483 to 2,332, by ensuring that we are only seeing resources with the term 'screen time' represented. 

Image of the search results for the term using quotation marks.

NOT is used when you want to exclude a keyword or term.

For example, if you wanted to search for the effects of screen time on children or adolescents, but did not want results related to obesity, you would structure the query: "screen time" AND (child* or adolescents) NOT obesity. This would eliminate results containing the word 'obesity'.

Image of search results for "screen time" AND (Child* OR adolescents) NOT obesity.

Many library databases allow you to use truncation to help with your search. Truncation allows you to use symbols (usually *, $, or #) to replace a letter or letters in a word. This can be useful when searching for multiple variations of a word or all words which start with the same root. Truncation will broaden your search results. 

For example: 

You can search for the terms sociology, sociological, sociologist, socioeconomic, etc... using socio*. This will return results for any term starting with the root word "socio".

Use this:

Instead of this:


Truncation can also be helpful when trying to find a term in both its singular and plural form. i.e. teen* will search for teen, teens, teenage, teenager, and teenagers. 

How Not to Use Truncation

Truncation can be a very useful strategy when searching. However, you need to consider what stem or root word to use. If you used soc*, for instance, not only would you get the terms you're looking for but you would also return many more results than you intended, such as social, socialism, society, sock, socket, soccer, etc.

Ovid Synthesis Access

Helpful Databases

Request Items

Interlibrary Loan expands the range of available research materials. Materials not owned by FDU Libraries may be obtained from other libraries through Interlibrary Loan. Please see Requesting Interlibrary Loans for information on how to request materials to be sent to FDU Libraries.

Off-Campus Access

Off-campus (remote) access to the FDU Libraries is available to students, faculty, and staff. When a database or resource is selected, a prompt for your FDU NetID and password will appear on your screen. Access will be granted upon verification of your credentials.