Skip to Main Content
St George's University of London Logo

Ovid Search Guide

A guide to searching healthcare databases eg Medline, Embase, using the Ovid Search tool.

Planning Your Search

Before you begin searching Ovid, it is recommended that you identify appropriate keywords to describe your topic.

For help on this, please see the Principles of Effective Literature Searching LibGuide. The section on 'Planning your search' will provide more detail on identifying relevant terms and links to helpful templates and frameworks you can use to structure your search.

For more in-depth searching, the Systematic reviews: finding and managing the evidence LibGuide is also a useful starting point.

Watch the YouTube videos below to learn how to run a basic search in Ovid.

Build a Search Strategy

At St George's, Ovid has been configured to search for keywords as a default. If you have multiple keywords, it is best to search for them each individually. To do this, enter your first search term and click 'Search'. All of the articles that refer to your search term will appear in the search history above the search box. Repeat this step until you have searched for all of your relevant terms.

Please note: it is best to avoid words that are too general or too abstract, as this will compromise both the number and relevancy of results you retrieve. Such words include: the, a, in, of, or, as well as words such as discuss, importance, analyse etc.

Authors often use different words to describe subject areas.  For this reason, it is important to include synonyms (Wikipedia can sometimes help in finding alternative ways to describe a concept), phrases, UK/US spellings and different word endings in your search strategy.

Tip: If you have already found or know about an article that perfectly matches your topic, it can be very effective to look at the terms used in their title or abstract and apply them to your own search strategy.  This will help you to locate more articles like it.

You will find other helpful tips for keyword searching by clicking on the other tabs in this box.

Using the * symbol (on the number 8 of your keyboard) is useful for capturing plurals and other derivatives of a particular word stem. For example, mentor* will find articles containing the words mentor, mentors, mentorship and so on.

Using truncation appropriately will mean that you do not miss out on any relevant results.

Using the ADJ (adjacency) operator between two keywords will find articles containing phrases where your keywords appear near to each other, in any order. You can make this more flexible by specifying a number.

For example: cancer ADJ3 colon will find articles referring to colon cancer AND cancer of the colon.

You can make your searches more focussed by using phrase searching.

When two or more words commonly appear next to each other, enclose them in double quotation marks (" ") to ensure that the results refer to the specific concept in which you are interested. For example: "physical therapy"

Subject Headings are terms that are allocated to each article to describe its content. Searching via Subject Headings is an efficient way to search databases as they cater for the differences in spellings/words meanings and can make your search results more relevant and specific.

To see if there is a Subject Heading available for your terms, tick the 'Map term to subject heading' box before you click the Search button.

The system will compare your search term to the subject headings that have been used to index the articles in that particular database.

Here the search term "music therapy" has been mapped to the subject heading of the same name.

You might be offered an exact match in the next screen that is displayed - this will usually be ticked automatically. If there isn't an exact match, you may need to select one that is most appropriate. The 'Scope' note on the right-hand side of the page will provide you with more detail about how the subject heading is used.

Clicking 'continue' once a term is ticked will offer you a choice of different subheadings:

Ovid subheadings for Music Therapy, including 'history', 'education' and 'economics'.

As a general rule, especially at the beginning of a search, you should include all subheadings to maximise the amount of results you retrieve. You can always narrow your search later.

Clicking 'Continue' will add your subject heading search to your search history.

Tick the boxes of the lines of the searches you wish to combine (e.g. 1 and 2) and then select AND or OR using the logic below, before clicking on Combine:

stress OR anxiety


Documents that discuss

either stress or anxiety

stress AND anxiety

Documents that discuss
both stress and anxiety

Remember, use OR to combine terms that are similar to one another. This will broaden your search. Use AND to combine different concepts. This will focus your search.

Your search might look something like this:

An example search that seeks to find connections between Dementia and Music therapy using search connectors.


The limits function in Ovid can help narrow your search further and remove irrelevant articles. You may wish to restrict your results to a publication date range (those published in the last five years, for example), view only references written in English, or review only results available in full-text. Select these underneath the search box, click ‘Search’ and they will be applied to the last line of your search history:


Limits in Ovid also include local holdings, full text available and abstracts only.


The Additional Limits button allows you to limit your results further, for example, by material type. This is useful if you are looking only for Systematic Reviews, or RCTs or Case Studies etc.

Ideally you should apply limits at the end of your search. Applying them earlier may mean you miss out on relevant papers