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Drugs and pharmaceutical information: Search tips

Search tips

Before starting the search process it is often a good idea to construct a search strategy. It might be as simple as a few key words or concepts - knowing a few synonyms, variant spellings and related terms can save you time and find you more relevant information. 

Start by determining your key words e.g. "drug therapy", "adverse reactions", diabetes

  "drug therapy" "adverse reactions" diabetes
  medication "adverse side effects" "diabetes mellitus"
  treatment pharmacovigilance DM

Combine synonyms for each concept with OR - "drug therapy" OR medication OR treatment

Combine the different concepts with AND - "drug therapy" AND "adverse reactions" AND diabetes

When put together, your search strategy may look something like this:

"drug therapy" OR medication OR treatment


"adverse reactions" OR "adverse side effects" OR pharmacovigilance


diabetes OR "diabetes mellitus" OR DM

Using both key words and subject headings in your search is also recommended. For example, Medline and PubMed use a controlled vocabulary known as MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) to describe the content of available items. This helps maintain consistency and ensures easy accessibility to items on a relevant topic, despite the fact that the author may have used different terms in their own description.

When searching Medline and PubMed it can be beneficial to map your key words to the MeSH subject headings, to improve your search results.

Note that subject headings are not consistent across databases, so you will need to translate your search strategy to 'fit' a database.

Using subject headings in your search strategy is recommended to retrieve relevant results. This video demonstrates advanced subject heading searching in Ovid Medline


This video demonstrates some advanced search techniques in Ovid EMBASE:


Evaluate Resources

Wikipedia, Google and internet searches may uncover worthwhile information but they shouldn't be relied upon as the primary source of drug information.

Evaluating Internet Health Information: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine

Searching in PubMed

The US National Library of Medicine provides a tutorial for Searching drugs or chemicals in PubMed