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Library Resources: Health Services Administration: Keyword

HSA Research guide.

Keyword Searching

Keyword searching:

  • Is also referred to as natural language, textword or free text searching.
  • Does not take into consideration variant spellings (e.g., pedriatics and the British paediatrics).
  • Does not search for synonyms of a search term (e.g. searching "heart attack" will not retrieve articles that use the term myocardial infarction). 
  • Is an option when you can’t find an appropriate MeSH or other controlled vocabulary term for what you’re researching
  • Is an option when you’re researching a relatively new phenomena and MeSH or other controlled vocabulary terms haven’t yet been added.



  • Most databases allow for a symbol to be used at the end of a word to retrieve variant spellings of that word.
  • Truncation symbols may vary by database. Common symbols are *, $, #
  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
  • Example: the keyword search “child*” will retrieve results with the keywords child, childs, children, childrens, childhood.


Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are used to combine concepts when searching. The three most common operators are AND, OR and NOT. The operator you select will determine the number of results you retrieve.


  • Retrieves records that contain all concepts connected by the operator.
  • Decreases the number of records retrieved.
  • Example: smoking AND teens will return only results that include both smoking and teens.


  • Retrieves records that contain any of the concepts connected by the operator.
  • Increases the number of records retrieved.
  • Example: cloning OR genetics will return results that contain either term.


  • Retrieves records that exclude the concept following the operator
  • Decreases the number of records retrieved.
  • Example: dementia NOT Alzheimer’s will return results that do not include Alzheimer’s.

Phrase Searching

Quotation marks (“  “) are used for phrase searching. When you surround your search terms with quote marks, you’re telling the database that the words must appear as an exact phrase (e.g., “kidney failure).