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The University of Otago Library has updated its Subject Guides system. Please let us know what you think by filling out this survey.

Search Tips

Plan Your Search

You will get better results if you plan your search before you get started. This includes choosing appropriate databases and strong search terms.

Choosing which databases to search

Make sure the focus of the database fits your topic. You can find the full list of databases on the Library's database page.

Check out these tables for a quick overview of the key databases available through the library 


 AH: Allied health

 AP: Administration & policy

 NM: Nursing & Midwifery

 M: Medicine

 P: Pharmacy

 PH: Public health

Major databases

  Subject Content
MEDLINE AH  AP  M  NM  P  PH The premier database for all health research
CINAHL AH  NM  PH The authoritative resource for nursing and allied health, and for qualitative research
EMBASE AH  M  P  PH A major biomedical database
SCOPUS Multidisciplinary A major multidisciplinary resource
Web of Science Multidisciplinary A large science focused database, including health sciences and genetics
PsycINFO Mental health Psychological, social, behavioural and health sciences
Ovid Nursing database NM  PH Ovid’s Nursing and Midwifery database
Proquest Multidisciplinary Suite of databases including theses and dissertations. Strong social work content
EBSCO Multidisciplinary Suite of databases, including some of the above

Smaller specialist databases/resources

  Subject Content
UpToDate M  P For use at point of care. Evidence based clinical topic summaries
Clinical Evidence M  P High quality, independent health evidence
Cochrane Library M  P Large comprehensive database of systematic reviews on select topics
Informit New Zealand/Australia Australian health journals, mostly not indexed on Medline
INNZ New Zealand/Australia Selected New Zealand publications, including newspapers, magazines
EBSCO Aus/NZ Reference Centre New Zealand/Australia Australasian journals, magazines, newspapers, news, reference books and images
AMED AH Complementary medicine, palliative care, allied health
PEDro AH Physiotherapy Evidence based resource for physiotherapy

Identifying the main concepts in your topic

Research often starts with a question. Pick out the key concepts in your question.
You don’t need those small words like in, the, on, for.

In our example:


Do sound levels in neonatal intensive care units impact on weight gain of premature babies?
Search icon


Your key concepts might be:

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
Neonatal intensive care Sound levels Weight gain


Brainstorm alternate spellings, synonyms, drug names, and medical terms for your concepts. You could use an online thesaurus, Wikipedia, your preferred search engine, or resources like UpToDate to get ideas for search terms.

Here are some additional concepts for our example:

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
Neonatal intensive care Noise levels Weight gain
NICU Sound levels Growth rates
Premature babies Decibels Failure to thrive
Premature infants Noise disturbance