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Subject guide for Pharmacy

Search Strategies for Literature Searching

Literature searching may sound daunting, but there are so many tools at your disposal to make life easier. 

  • To get started, we recommend you check out the e-book How to read a paper by Trisha Greenhalgh. This excellent resource will help you to understand why systematic searching and gathering good quality evidence is so important, and how you can build your own searches and protocols to do it really well.
  • Second, work through the 'Searching biomedical databases' below. This will introduce you to boolean search logic and the specific interfaces of several key biomedical databases.
  • Next, check out the 'Biomedical database guides' box on this page. Here you will find lots more detail on how to use the most important biomedical databases: Embase, IPA, MEDLINE, PubMed & Web of Science.
  • After that, think about your own research project. Download our project worksheet (linked below) and use it to break down your topic area into key research components. The more specific you can be, the better. You may also find the PICO approach detailed below useful for creating a well-rounded clinical question.
  • Finally, try searching! Once you have selected your databases and finalised your protocol, navigate to the Pharmacy A-Z databases page (linked below) and have a go. Searching is about experimentation, so don't worry if it takes you a few gos to get the hang of it. Remember, you can always contact us if you need more help!

Biomedical database searching tutorial


PICO is a planning tool that can be used to structure clinical research questions. It helps to create a focussed search topic, whilst also encouraging you to think about the alternate search terms that might be used to describe your topic elements.

Q: How effective is the combination use of ICS and LTRA in managing symptoms of suspected asthma in under 5s?


Under 5s

Asthma diagnosis


Inhaled Corticosteroid



Leukotriene Receptor Antagonist



Symptom management

Maintenance therapy
Symptom monitoring
Medication adherence
Controlled symptoms
Uncontrolled symptoms