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Public Health: Search Tips

CUNY School of Public Health

Search Techniques

The techniques described in this section will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from a database.

Start by thinking about the following:

Formulating your topic - it is important to develop your research question in a way that is not so narrow that you will get few/no results, yet not so broad that there is too much information and it is difficult to manage the number of results. Keep in mind that as you search, your topic might evolve. 

Think in terms of search terms - how can you break your topic down into key words or concepts?

  • Keep in mind: synonyms, alternate spellings, and related terms
  • Your search should consist only of your search terms, do not include full sentences and leave out words like a, and, the, in, on, of, which, etc unless they are a part of one of your search terms. 

Use database filters - Any database you use will have filters you can use to hone your search. These usually include filters for date ranges, language, study or resource type, topics and subjects, journal. etc.

Field searching - consider entering your search term in a specific field. For example, search the title or the abstract if you want your search terms to appear in the title of a work and/or it's abstract. You can also search for a specific author.

Boolean Searching

Boolean operators ANDOR, and NOT can be used to connect your search terms and define the relationship between them.

                              boolean AND

Using AND to connect your search terms will lead to results that contain both terms. Think of it as searching for all the terms.


                            boolean OR


Using OR to connect your search terms will lead to results that contain either term. This is good for including synonyms in your search, such as teenagers OR youth. Think of it as searching for any of the terms.


                              boolean NOT


Using NOT to connect your search terms will lead to results that exclude the following word. Think of it as eliminating a certain term from the search results.


I recommend downloading Libkey Nomad before starting your research. This browser extension checks publisher sites for City College access. It combines information about CCNY e-journal holdings, authentication and article linking to deliver one-click access to PDF and HTML articles.

Below are some tips for formulating your search. These techniques will allow you to hone your database searches to get as close to what you're looking for as possible.

    search tips chart

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