Database search tips

A quick reference guide

The RPS Library subscribes to two databases via our EBSCO supplier. 

They are:

  1. MEDLINE Complete
  2. Biomedical Reference Collection

Our databases contain circa 6,000 full-text journals and many more citations. 

You can search these for information on any healthcare topic, from e-cigarettes and smoking cessation to antimicrobial resistance.

Being familiar with a few useful techniques can make it easier to find the information you need.

How to access our databases

Once you have accessed this e-library page, choose the Search our databases tile. You will need to be a Member of the RPS and logged in to to see the tile:


This is what the Search our databases tile looks like

Select the database you would like to use by ticking the box next to the individual database, or search them simultaneously by ticking the select/deselect all box on the top left-hand corner of the screen

If you are conducting more advanced searches, it’s better to search the databases individually so that you can map your search terms to MeSH subject headings when searching Medline, for example.

What are subject headings and why should I use them?

We use keywords to search databases and this is where subject headings/controlled vocabularies are useful, because they direct us to the term that subject specialists have used to index articles.

Example: You want to find articles on the use of Inderal for controlling hypertension. Using Medline, type ‘Inderal’ into the search box, then click on the Suggest subject terms and Search boxes.

The preferred term for ‘Inderal’ is ‘Propranolol’. Click on the box next to ‘Propranolol’; you are also given the option of including your original keyword in the search.

Click on the Search database button to the right of the screen.

What is Boolean and why does it matter?

The term Boolean originates from Boolean algebra. It's used as a means of linking words or concepts to make database searching more efficient.


AND narrows your search

It only retrieves results where both search terms appear in the record.


OR broadens your search. 

It retrieves records containing either search term or both. It is particularly useful for connecting synonyms.


NOT narrows your search 

It excludes terms from your search results; for example, Headache NOT Migraine will pick up every item on headache but will exclude those that include migraine.

Why would I use truncation?

Truncation enables you to retrieve documents which include variants of a word. 

Our databases use the asterisk * truncation symbol. Just add it to the root of the search term; for example, pharm* will retrieve pharmacist, pharmacists, pharmacy, pharmacies etc. in the search results.

Using Limiters

Even combining Boolean search techniques can retrieve a large set of results, and this is where being able to limit those results is useful. 

Each database has a different set of limiters but common ones are date, language and publication type.

Further information on searching our databases

Searching our databases (members only)


  • Searching using
    • Boolean operators
    • Medical subject headings
  • Combining search terms
  • Saving, emailing, printing and exporting results