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Cochrane Library Search Guide

Carry out an advanced search on the Cochrane Library

The Cochrane Library offers four advanced search options. Using the Search manager provides the greatest flexibility, and is the best option for running detailed searches combining both keyword searches and MeSH terms.


Using Search allows you to enter up to five lines of text word searches and to combine these using either AND or OR. 

You can also employ advanced search techniques when using this option.

Using Search manager

To search for a text word, enter a term into the search box and click on Continue.


To search for a text word in specific fields, use the Sbutton next to the search box, and select an option from the drop-down menu to the left (the default is title, abstract and keyword). Enter your term and click on Add/Edit search line

When using the Search Manager, you can also search using MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) terms. MeSH is the National Library of Medicine's thesaurus of controlled vocabulary terms, which is used in the indexing of journal articles in PubMed and Medline, and is also applied to some of the content in the Cochrane Library. Search using MeSH in combination with text words for a more comprehensive set of results.

To use MeSH, click on the MeSH button next to the search box, enter a search term, and click on Look up


A list of any relevant matching MeSH terms will be displayed, and in the case of an exact match, this will be automatically selected. By default, the selected MeSH term will also be 'Exploded' to include any more specific related terms: in the below example, exploding Nutritional Support would also include Enteral Nutrition and Parenteral Nutrition. You may prefer to select a single MeSH term, to focus your search. 

To add your chosen MeSH term to your search, click on Add/Edit search line

Image showing MeSH search results as described above, including an "exploded" search for Nutritional Support and synonymous subject headings.

As you build your search strategy using the Search manager, you can combine separate lines in order to produce a final set of results on your topic. 

Combine using OR when you need to combine lines about the same concept: this will produce a set where each result includes at least one of the combined terms. This could be synonyms of a word, or a text word and MeSH term for the same concept.

To combine search lines with OR, either enter the line numbers to be combined in the format: #1 or #2 or #3 or combine a range of lines using: {or #1-#3}

Combine using AND when you need to combine terms or search lines about different concepts: this will produce a set where each result includes all of the combined terms.

To combine search lines with AND, either enter the line numbers to be combined in the format: #1 and #2 and #3 or combine a range of lines using: {and #1-#3}

Note: When combining search lines, ensure that you do not leave a space between the # and the line number, as this will result in an error.


The below shows a simple example of a completed search. To view a set of results, click on the number to the right of the search line

Image showing a completed search, with the following terms entered: 1) MeSH descriptor: [Nurtional Support] explode all trees, 2) nutrition support, 3) #1 OR #2, 4) (inpatient):ti,ab,kw, 5) MeSH descriptor: [Inpatients] this term only, ) #4 OR #5.

There are a number of ways in which you can apply limits to results in the Cochrane Library. It is best to apply limits as the final step of your search

When viewing your search, you can click on Limits to the right of a search line to apply limits directly. This will provide the options shown in the below pop-up.

options for limiting a search, including Content type and Publication year.





















Alternatively, when viewing search results, you may wish to choose a specific type of content, using the tabs along the top of the list of results.

You can also apply limits using the Filters on the left of the results list. These include options to limit by publication date, by status, review type, available translations, or by topic. 


The Cochrane Library offers several options for searching for different terms with a common word root (known as truncation).

Use an asterisk * at the end of a word to search for all terms beginning with the same word root. For example, mentor* will find results containing the words mentor, mentors, mentorship and so on.

Use an asterisk at the beginning of a word to search or all terms ending with the same suffix. For example, *glycaemia will find results for both hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia.

Use an asterisk within a word to find results with possible varying characters: this is helpful for finding both U.S and U.K English variants. For example, gyn*cology will find results including both gynecology and gynaecology.

You can also use a question mark at the end of a word to search for a word root with up to one additional character. For example, system? will find results containing the words system and systems, but not systematic or systemic.

Note: when using any of the above, the word root must be at least three characters.



Use a question mark within a word to search for different characters in the same place. For example, wom?n will find results including both woman and women.


Phrase searching

To search for an exact phrase, enclose it in quotes. For example, "nutrition support"

If you wish to use truncation within a phrase, you must use the NEXT operator. For example, nutrition* NEXT support


Proximity searching

Use the near operator to search for terms within a specified number of words of each other. For example, lung near/3 cancer will find results including the phrase lung cancer, but also those including cancer of the lung and any other variation where the terms occur within three words of each other, in either order.

You can specify any number after the near/ but generally, searching for terms within five or fewer words of each other is likely to be appropriate.

Medical terms (MeSH)

Using the Medical terms (MeSH) tab allows you to search for results which include a selected MeSH term. If you wish to carry out a search which involves more than one term, use the Search manager tab instead.

To search, enter your chosen term and click on Look up. A list of any relevant matching MeSH terms will be displayed, and in the case of an exact match, this will be automatically selected. Click on View results to see items including your selected MeSH term.

Image showing the interface when searching using the MeSH tab.

PICO search

Using the PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) search allows you to construct a search with the same vocabulary terms used to describe the PICO elements in Cochrane Reviews. 

Enter a term in the search box, and select the matching term from the dropdown list. If no matching term appears, try a different term with a similar meaning.


When you make a selection, this will be added to the search strategy. In some cases, you may be able to choose which PICO element to assign your term. You can search for all results with your chosen term by clicking on Run search, or continue to add elements for a more detailed search.


To add further terms to your search, click on the + below the search box. Use the dropdown menu which appears to choose whether a term is combined using OR or AND.


Click Run search to see all of the Cochrane Reviews which contain the specified PICO elements. If necessary, you can refine your search using the Filter your results options to the left. Filters are organised into PopulationIntervention/Comparison, and Outcome