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MHE MHI MPH Passport to the Library: Search Strategies

An outline of the Waterloo Library services and resources relevant to online learners in health.

Useful Tool for Creating a Good Search Strategy

Steps for Developing a Comprehensive Search Strategy

When searching academic journal databases, It is important to enter search terms in a structured format.  Here is a simple outline of the process of developing an efficient search strategy for the following sample research question:

How can we fight childhood obesity in schools?

Step 1. Isolation of main concepts of research question

"interventions," "childhood," "obesity" and "schools"

Step 2. Create a list of search terms.  It is helpful to organize the search terms into a table format.

Search Term Table

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3


health education

health promotion







Step 3.  Use AND/OR and brackets (  ) to create a single search strategy

(interventions OR health education OR health promotion) AND (childhood OR child OR adolescent) AND (obesity OR obese OR overweight) AND (schools)

Search tips:

  • truncation (*): this allows you to search different versions of a word by placing an asterisk after the common letters (root word). ex. Searching child* will retrieve child, childhood, and children

  • phrase searching: placing quotation marks around one or more words allows you search them as a phrase, in the exact order you wrote them. ex. "health promotion"

Brainstorming your research question

Searching in a database

Refining your research results