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Dentistry and Oral Health

Access recommended books, journals, databases and websites for your assignments and research in dentistry and oral health.

6 Steps to create a search strategy

Step 1 Develop a research question

A well-defined research question will make it easier to apply the key concepts in your question to your search.

Step 2 Identify key concepts

Once you have a well-defined question, the next step is to identify the keywords and phrases that are the most important from your question.

For example, in this question:

In adults suffering sleep bruxism, are splints a beneficial treatment?

The keywords are sleep bruxism, splints, adults.

Visit the Analysing the Topic for more information on this process.

Step 3 Brainstorm alternative terms

It is important to brainstorm synonyms and related terms because not all of the relevant literature will use exactly the same keyword.

You will need to think about:

  • Different terminology – dentistry or oral health
  • Different spellings – organisation or organization 
  • Singular and plural word forms – child or children; dentist or dentists
  • Words with different endings – periodontology or periodontal or periodontitis 
  • Generic vs specific names – dental materials vs acrylic resins
  • Common acronyms – Cone-beam Computed Tomography or CBCT
  • Word spelt with and without a hyphen – nonsurgical or non-surgical

You may plan your search using this Search Strategy Planner:

For a comprehensive search (e.g. a search for a systematic review), it is best practice to search using both keywords and subject headings.

 Watch Keywords vs Subject Headings (YouTube, 3m30s) to learn the difference between keywords and subject headings:

Step 4 Create a search string

Once you have some search terms planned out, you are ready to build a search string now!

Think about how you will use your keywords and phrases to create a search. For instance, you might use a combination of:

  • Word connectors, aka Boolean operators, are AND, OR, NOT – used to combine keywords to create searches. Use the Boolean Machine to learn how Boolean operators work.
  • Phrase searching — use quotation marks to find a phrase. For instance, "teeth grinding".

For example, your search string might look like:
("sleep bruxism” OR “teeth grinding”) AND splint* AND adult*

To learn about more search techniques, visit Searching in databases.

Step 5 Choose where to search

Knowing where to search is just as important as knowing how to search.

Search for dentistry literature in these key databases

 Watch How to search PubMed in a systematic way (YouTube, 7m36s) to learn how to systematically search PubMed, including great tips on search planning:

Step 6 Evaluate results

Searching is an iterative process. You might need to revise your search strategy several times to create a best strategy. Check these quick ways to improve your search.

If you have too many results you may want to:

  • add additional concepts
  • limit your search results by document type, date, subject
  • conduct your search in a particular field (title or abstract fields).

If you have too few results you may want to:

  • check your spelling
  • remove some of the concepts
  • try alternative keywords and phrases
  • try other databases

Results not relevant? Check this guide for tips to refine your search.

Find articles in PubMed on predefined topics