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Occupational Therapy Program - Evidence-Based Practice Guide: Electronic Database Searches


What is an Electronic Database?

  • Computer-based collection or listing of information:n, including professional peer-reviewed journal articles, organized in an systematic way with searchable elements or fields, to make the search easy and fast (Randhawa & Randhawa, n.d.)

How do We Search Them?

  • The  below sub-sections/tabs provide tools and resources that show you:
    •  "How To" organize your literature searches to access information from available electronic databases using:
      • Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) Terms and;
      • Boolean Operators
    • "Which" electronic databases are available to search:
      • Some of these databases are publicly available
      • Some are accessible to you only through our Allied Health Education Center (AHEC) Library.         

.*** Please Note:  As you explore searching the electronic database tabs, please note that becoming proficient at searching requires  trial-and-error practice.  So, the tabs provide resources/tools, but you should anticipate the need to spend "time" exploring each database to learn their different formats, layout, tools, etc. so that you can develop efficient search strategies and habits ***


What are MeSH terms? 

MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings, and is best described in the excerpt from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s, "Fact Sheet, Medical Subject Headings" (2013a):

"MeSH is the National Library of Medicine's controlled vocabulary thesaurus. It consists of sets of terms naming descriptors in a hierarchical structure that permits searching at various levels of specificity.   MeSH descriptors are arranged in both an alphabetic and a hierarchical structure. At the most general level of the hierarchical structure are very broad headings such as "Anatomy" or "Mental Disorders." More specific headings are found at more narrow levels of the twelve-level hierarchy, such as "Ankle" and "Conduct Disorder." There are 27,149 descriptors in 2014 MeSH. There are also over 218,000 entry terms that assist in finding the most appropriate MeSH Heading, for example, "Vitamin C" is an entry term to "Ascorbic Acid." In addition to these headings, there are more than 219,000 headings called Supplementary Concept Records (formerly Supplementary Chemical Records) within a separate thesaurus"  

To understand using MeSH terms to perform literature searches, review the following video tutorials:  


nks to an external site.)


Boolean Operators:

  • Include 3 "connector" words (AND, OR, & NOT) used to either broaden or narrow your search
  • Used to generate more efficient, focused, and exact search results (Alliant Libraries, n.d.)


Review the following short tutorials to provide you with a "how to use" overview of boolean operators:

The following link provides a video example using Boolean Operators:



The following link provides a cheat sheet guiding you through the process of

using boolean operators:





(Cumulated Index in Nursing and Allied Health Literature)

Database which includes journals for nursing and allied health professionals.  CINAHL is cataloged within EBSCOhost, which is an online Internet reference system (EBSCOhost, n.d.a; EBSCOhost, n.d.b)

The following links will provide you with an overview on how to use CINAHL Complete:

  • Limiters:
    • Assist to narrow/focus your search so that the information retrieved from the database h is limited according to the values you select (EBSCOhost, n.d.f)



Database which includes abstract citations and references for peer-reviewed literature and online books from a broad range of interdisciplinary professions.  Some abstract citations will provide a link to the full-text journal article if available within the PubMed Central collection or made available by the publisher.   (U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.)

The following links will provide you with an overview on how to use PubMed “Search Tools”.  Please click the show me, in each of the guides, to access demonstrations of the provided instructions:

  • Quick Start Guide: 
    • Be sure to scroll down in the Quick Start Help page to learn about Clinical Queries in PubMed (U.S. National Medical Library, n.d.)
  • MeSH on Demand:
    • "Identifies MeSH Terms in your text using the NLM Medical Text Indexer program.[and] ... returns a list of MeSH Terms relevant to your text" (U.S. National Medical Library, 2016b)
      • Video Tutorial  - MeSH on Demand (U.S. National Medical Library, 2015b)
  • MeSH Browser:  
    • " vocabulary look-up aid available for use with MeSH® (Medical Subject Headings)... to help quickly locate descriptors of possible interest and to show the hierarchy in which descriptors of interest appear" (U.S. National Medical Library, 2015c)




Medline OVID

(Medline 1946 – Present)

Medline is the National Library of Medicine’s bibliographic database and article index of journals in the biomedical research and clinical sciences, including allied health.  OVID is the software company providing the search capabilities or Medline.

The following links will provide you with an overview on how to use Medline OVID:


Google Scholar

Google Scholar “provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature … across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites” (Google, n.d.)

The following link will provide you with an overview on how to use Google Scholar: