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IACUC Literature Searches: Constructing your search

General Advise

You will need to be consistent in searching the different databases, by using the same keywords/terms. 

For example, don't search for (mice AND cancer AND liver) in database 1, then search for (mice AND tumor AND liver) in database two.

However, the way you structure or format the search string will probably have to vary in different databases. Most databases use Boolean searching techniques, but they differ in which symbols you need to use for certain operations. Below is a general guide on how the searching works, so you can be precise in what you look for, but please consult the database's help page or ask a librarian on the specifics.

Boolean Searching

Boolean operators allow you to combine terms using AND, OR, and NOT. Details and examples for each operator are below.

The majority of databases will use Boolean searching in some way.


  • Using this operator narrows results
  • Using AND means that each term will be in the results
  • You need to use at least two terms, but can have many


  • obesity AND diabetes AND adult
    • Yield results that have all terms provided to it, obesity, diabetes, adult. If an article has two but not all three of these, then it won't be included in the results.
  • snakes AND salamanders
    • Yield results that have both terms provided, as provided. In this case both snakes (notice this is plural) and salamanders (again, plural). Depending on the database, it might be picky about only including the plural version and not the singular, limiting your results unnecessarily - so be careful. Also, if you are actually interested in either animal, the OR operator might be a better choice.


  • Using this operator broadens results 
  • Using OR means that at least one of the terms will be in the results
  • You need to use at least two terms, but can have more


  • newt OR salamander OR frog
    • Yield results that have newt or salamander or frog, or some combination two of these, or perhaps all three. You might use this if you are studying amphibians generally, and not a specific species.
  • "heart attack" OR "myocardial infarction"
    • Yield results that use either the common or medical terms for heart attacks, so either or both "heart attack, or "myocardial infarction". It's a really good plan to use OR when looking up terms that have both a common name and a scientific one (like animal species, diseases, drugs, chemicals, ect.)
    • Notice the two terms are both enclosed in quotation marks - more on this below. It's what called Phrase Searching.



  • Using this operator narrow results
  • Using NOT means that the subsequent term will be excluded from the results


  • asthma NOT juvenile 
    • Yield results that include the term asthma but remove those that also have the term juvenile. Perhaps in this case you are just interested in adults with asthma, not childhood asthma. There are of course different ways you could go about this - asthma AND (adult OR elderly), might also work, depending on your study.
  • (mines OR mining) NOT "data mining"
    • Yield results for mines or mining, but excluding those specifically including the phrase 'data mining'. Not perhaps terms often used in an IACUC application, but demonstrates that sometimes you search for what you want, and something unrelated keeps coming back that you aren't interested in. This NOT operator can help address that, so you don't have so many irrelevant results to look through.

(  )

  • Used to build compound search strings, using AND, OR, and NOT in combination
  • Search order matters, like the order of operations in math
  • Use ( ) to tell the database what you mean to do, in which order - especially when using multiple operators


  • (T1D OR "type 1 diabetes") AND (mice OR mouse)
    • Yield results for articles that have both type one diabetes, either written as T1D or as type 1 diabetes, and also contain either mice or mouse. It's basically an AND search for T1D and mice, but is using synonyms for both terms. In the case of T1D, it might be abbreviated but it might also be spelled out; in the case of mice, it might be singular or plural (which for mice are different words, not just the same root word with an s on the end, like many other animals, e.g. rat and rats. This is a through, comprehensive, way to build a search.
  • (stress AND fear) NOT (PTSD OR "posttraumatic stress disorder" OR "post traumatic stress disorder" OR "post-traumatic stress disorder")
    • Yield results that contain both terms, stress and fear, but then excludes the ones with PTSD or any of the variants specified, using OR as the operator. Most likely if you search for stress and fear, you'll get many results with PTSD, but if that's not what you are studying, you can exclude those. However, PTSD might be abbreviated or spelled out, and may or may not use a hyphen, so it's important to use think of variations for terms you are using.

Phrase Searching

"   " or {  }

  • Used to indicate you want that exact phrase as entered
  • Every result will contain exactly what's in the quotes, not just a part of it, and not any substitutions
  • Many but not all databases allow for phrase searching
  • Please check with the database you are using on what the symbol is, and if they even have the capability at all
    • Often quotation marks " " are used, but sometimes curly brackets { } are too


  • "long evans rat"
    • Yield results with the exact string long evans rat. Leaving off the quotes in this case would likely, (but depends on the database) do a search for (long AND evans AND rat), so all three words would be present in the text but not necessarily next to each other, and even if they are adjacent, they might not be in the order you want. 
  • "foot shock"
    • Yields results for the exact phrase 'foot shock'. Leaving off the quotes would make the phrase loose it's meaning in the search, and most likely the two words would be combined with the AND operator (foot AND shock). Doing so would look for articles containing both words, not necessarily in together or in that order, causing many irrelevant results. 

Truncation Searching

Common symbols: *  !  ?  #

  • Used to find a variety results for words that have the same root, without you specifying all the possibilities
  • You do this by putting a symbol at the end of the root word
    • Please check with the database you are using on what the symbol is, and if they even have the capability at all
    • Common symbols are *, !, ?, or #
  • To avoid unexpected results, use with caution
  • Can be used in concert with Boolean operators


  • genetic*
    • Yield results for: genetic, genetics, genetically
    • We can see here that while it does result in some variations, the original term is also included in the results
  • color*
    • Yield results for: color, colorimetric, colored, colorimetric, coloring, colorless, coloration, colors, Colorado
    • We can see here that the results get a little off track from what we might intend - so use with caution

Wildcard Searching

Common symbols: *  !  ?  # $

  • Used to find different variants of a word, without you specifying all the possibilities
    • Similar to truncation but is in the middle of the word, not the end
  • Wildcards put a symbol in place of a letter/s in a word
    • Some databases have the ability to single character or multi-character wildcard searches
  • Please check with the database you are using on what the symbol is, and if they even have the capability at all
    • Common symbols are *, !, ?  #, or $
    • Databases that allow for both single and multi-character wildcards might use different symbols for each
  • Can be used in concert with Boolean operators


  • h*emoglobin
    • Yields: hemoglobin or haemoglobin - for a single character wildcard
    • Yields: hemoglobin, haemoglobin, hemimethemoglobin - for a multi-character wildcard
    • This is convenient for variant spellings of the same term
  • wom*n
    • Yields: women or woman
    • This is convenient for search both the singular and plural of the word