Searching databases using EBSCO

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EBSCO is a specialist tool that allows you to search a variety of different databases such as CINAHL and Medline. This guide provides an overview of how to use EBSCO to find research literature such as journal articles.


To use EBSCO, you'll need to make sure you have a valid OpenAthens login. You can register for an OpenAthens account by visiting while using an NHS PC, ideally with an NHS email address. If you are unable to do this, it will take longer for your account to be authorised.

Before you begin using Ovid, it’s a good idea to think about the search terms you want to use. It can be helpful to frame your topic as a short sentence, or as a question, to help you break it down into its key concepts and keywords. From here, you should also consider alternative terms.

Ask yourself if there are any other ways to describe the concept you are searching. You could try identifying useful synonyms, singular and plural variations, UK/US spellings etc.

For more in-depth advice on planning your search, read our Introduction to Literature Searching guide.

Before you begin your search, you also need to choose the most appropriate database(s) for your topic or research area. Visit the Online Resources tab at the top of the page to learn more about each database and their subject coverage.

At UHCW, you can search the following databases via EBSCO:

  • Medline

Once you’ve chosen where you want to search, click the appropriate link and login with your OpenAthens username and password. 


Note: Some databases like Medline are available to search in multiple tools. For the purposes of this guide, make sure you follow the link to EBSCO.

Here's an example of the EBSCO search screen and a brief key to it's various features:


1) Search box – enter your search terms here.
2) Search – click this button to run a keyword search.
3) Suggest Subject Terms – make sure this box is ticked before clicking Search in order to find Subject Headings.
4) Search operators – use these operators to combine your individual search lines.
5) Databases – check here to see which database you are searching and click ‘Change’ to try another.
6) Select a Field – choose where you would like to search for a keyword e.g. title, abstract etc.

Subject Terms (also known as Subject Headings) are specific terms assigned to articles to describe the content of that article. It can be helpful to see if there are any terms related to your topic as they help cater for things like spelling variations. Make sure the ‘Suggest Subject Terms’ box is ticked before you click the search button:

EBSCO will compare your term to the list of subject terms that have been used in the database you are searching. You might find an exact match or be presented with a list of close matches. If you aren’t sure which one to choose, try clicking on the ‘Scope’ note on the right-hand side for more detail on how that term has been used:

Once you’ve chosen a subject term, you’ll also be offered a selection of subheadings to search:

Ideally, at the beginning of your search you should include all subheadings to ensure you don’t miss out on any relevant results. Click ‘Search Database’ to add your subject heading to your search history.

Remember: The use of Subject Headings is tightly controlled, so there may not necessarily be one for your topic area. In this case, you will need to explore different keywords to describe your topic.

As mentioned earlier in this guide, keyword searches need to cater for spelling variations, word endings and synonyms. Capturing all these variations can feel time-consuming, so you might want to try these techniques to make your search more efficient:

Try using the * symbol in your keyword search to capture plurals and different word endings.
 e.g. reduc* will find reduce, reduces, reduced, reduction etc.


Try using the ? symbol in your keyword search to substitute a character or none.
 e.g. behavio?r will find behaviour and behaviour.


Proximity Searching
Use the N operator between two keywords to find articles where your keywords appear next to each other, in any order.
Add a number to make the search more flexible: e.g. lung N3 cancer will find results where lung and cancer appear within 3 words of one another.


In EBSCO, you need to enter your search terms one by one. Your results will appear in the search history below the search box. Avoid typing whole sentences, or words such as ‘in’ or ‘of’ as EBSCO will search for them as an exact phrase.

Having searched for your keywords and subject headings separately, you now need to combine them in order to get a final set of papers that cover all the topics you are interested in.


Use the OR operator to combine terms that are related to one another. OR widens your search.

Use the AND operator to combine different concepts. AND narrows your search.


Look at this example search below. Here, the user wants to answer the question:
“Is CBT effective at improving the self-esteem of young people with eating disorders?”

It is by no means exhaustive but gives you an idea of how your search might look like as you build it within EBSCO.

Depending on the nature of your search, you might want to apply limits to your search to remove irrelevant articles.

Different databases offer different ways of restricting your search, but common limits include language, publication date or publication type.



In EBSCO, a selection of limits is available ‘Refine Results’ menu to the left of your search results.

Choose those that are relevant and they will be applied automatically to your last search line. You should always apply limits at the end of your search

Searching is rarely completely accurate on your first try. You may need to try different combinations of search terms, both keyword and subject headings, to improve the relevancy of your results.

You may have already found useful papers elsewhere – perhaps from a Google search. Examine the keywords and subject headings in these papers and build them into your search if you’ve not used them already.


Too many results?

  • Have you added any limits to your search? e.g. date, language, age, etc.
  • Are your keywords too broad? Can you identify any narrower ways of describing your concept, e.g. specific conditions, interventions, etc.
  • Is the scope of your research question too broad? Could you add any additional concepts that could help focus your results?

Too few results?

  • Have you adequately planned your search and alternative terms?
  • Could you apply truncation to any of your search terms in order to find different word endings?
  • You may be combining too many concepts - try removing less essential terms from your strategy.
  • If you are finding 0 results on your search lines, check your spelling.

Results not relevant enough?

  • Are there any ambiguous words in your strategy that could be throwing your search off?
  • Are you searching the right database for your topic? Some research topics are not well covered in journals - are there sources of grey literature you can try instead?
  • Sometimes, it may be the case that you need to revise your question.

If you haven’t already done so, create a personal EBSCO account. This will allow you to save your search strategies so that they can be run again later or saved as an alert so that you can receive email updates when new papers are published.

Click the ‘Save Searches / Alerts’ button above your search history and login when prompted with your EBSCO account details. Give your search a name and a date to make it easy to identify.  


The above will only save your search history. Save individual papers by clicking on the folder icon next to the article title. If you want to save more, or email / export them, click the ‘Share’ link above your search results and a drop-down menu will appear.

You can also export from within your saved ‘folders’ when signed in to your EBSCO account.

Visit for video tutorials from the publisher


Email and book a 1-2-1 session with your Knowledge Skills Librarian.



Guide written by Beth Jackson, Knowledge Skills Librarian, UHCW NHS Trust.
Adapted from guide produced by St George’s, University of London with permission.
All screenshots are from Ovid and remain the copyright of Wolters Kluwer.
Updated 11th May 2022.