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Systematic Search for Health

Translating your search

Translation is a vital step because it ensures that searches are optimised for each additional database the search is run in. Therefore, the primary search strategy used in your first database, needs to be adapted for your other chosen databases as they may use different search techniques, subject headings and syntax.

Check out the following list for things that could be different when using other databases:

Subject Headings

Subject headings will be different in each database. For example, the previous database may have used MeSH, while the new database uses the APA Thesaurus.  


Search Techniques

Platforms may use different characters or commands for truncation, phrase searching, and proximity operators. It’s important to be aware of a database's search commands. This information can often be found in the database help guide.

Field Codes

Databases have different syntax and codes for field searching (the fields available to search free-text terms in). The most common fields used are title and abstract. This information can often be found in the database help guide. 


In-built database filters vary between databases, so finding equivalent filters can be inconsistent. For example, the Adolescent filter in MEDLINE Complete limits the age range to 13-18 years, but the Adolescence filter in APA PsycInfo limits the age range to 13-17 years.

Your Task

Before starting a translation, ensure you have:

Process of translating your search

There are several ways to translate your search strategy. One method is copying and pasting your final search strategy into a Word document and duplicating a copy for each additional database you will search. From here, you will adjust the field codes, syntax and subject headings to optimise the search for each database before transferring it into the database. This approach helps to minimise errors that could occur when translating your base search strategy directly into another database. 


It's easier to translate your search in a Word document because it’s more flexible than the database platform.


Check out the following steps:

Translating your search using Microsoft Word


  1. Copy your final search strategy into a new Word document.   
  2. Give the final search strategy a title based on the database and platform. For example: MEDLINE Complete (via EBSCOhost) 
  3. Duplicate a copy of the search history table for each database you will be searching. 
  4. Give these new tables a title based on each database and platform you plan to search. For example: Embase (via 
  5. Compare the keyword lines in the copied search with the database syntax table and adjust the field codes and search techniques to optimise the search for that new database.
  6. In the duplicated tables, delete the lines corresponding to subject headings used for the primary search’s database. Then, use the new database’s subject heading index to search for equivalent subject headings for each concept. If equivalent subject headings are found (there may be none, or several), add these to the new table. Note: Ensure that you copy the subject headings and their associated syntax directly from the search history, rather than typing it out yourself.
  7. Use the new database to determine if there are equivalent limiters available (if applicable), add these to the new table. 
  8. Proofread the new table to ensure it is complete and error free. 
  9. Copy and paste your search lines into the new databases to run the search, using the relevant database tools (e.g. Search History, limiters), where needed. Save your search in the new database if you choose. Save a copy of the search history for documentation.
  10. Export your database search result as RIS files, ready to upload into a specific EndNote Library dedicated to your review. See Export large results for detailed instructions.
  11. Ensure that you rename and same this RIS file in your project space.
  12. Repeat these steps for any databases that have been chosen to search for relevant literature. 


Considerations when translating your search to other databases  

Keywords won’t change when you translate your search to other databases. However, syntax of keywords and subject headings will need to be reviewed. Furthermore, lines with subject headings will need to be deleted and replaced with the relevant subject headings for the databases you plan to run your search in.

For support with translating in EBSCOHost databases or Embase, please see the following table. For guidelines on translating your search into databases via other platforms, please consult the knowledge base of that database for syntax requirements.



If this is your first time using the Embase database, we recommend watching our Embase video for detailed step by step instructions..

Search syntax and translation tables

EBSCOhost Databases 

e.g. MEDLINE Complete, CINAHL Complete, Global Health, PsycINFO, SocINDEX etc.

Truncation Wildcard Proximity Phrase Field Codes

* asterisk
 Finds all endings to
 a word.
 adolescen* finds:

can be used at the end of a word

? question

 replaces one
 wom?n finds

# hash replaces
 zero or one
 colo#r finds

Near operator used to find terms within a specified number of words apart.
In any order: e.g. health N2 program*
 finds: health promotion
 program, program in

“double quote
e.g. “public health”

Can truncate within
“physical* activ*”
finds the phrases:
physical activity or
physically active

TI (Title)
AB (Abstract)


TI health or AB health

Database/s Syntax

MH (MeSH) MM (MeSH Major Subject Heading)


MH health
MH health+ (+ stands
for exploded term)
MM health

Social Work
Abstracts via

DE (Subject Heading)


DE health

Explode will list all narrower headings


More information is available via the EBSCO Knowledge Base


Truncation Wildcard Proximity Phrase Field Codes

* asterisk
 Finds all endings to
 a word.
 adolescen* finds:

can be used at the end of a word

$ dollar sign
replaces zero or
one character
 colo$r finds


Near operator

NEAR/n finds terms
 within n words of each
 other, in any order. e.g.
 health NEAR/2 program*
 finds: health promotion
 program, program in


'single quote
e.g. 'public health'

Can truncate within

Does accept double
quote marks but will
change them to
single quote marks.

ti (Title)
ab (Abstract)
:ti,ab (to search
kw – Author
:kw or
(for all 3 fields)
(not case sensitive)



Subject Headings Subject labels Subject examples
  /de (Emtree Term)
/exp (exploded Emtree

More Information is available via the Embase Knowledge Base

Translating search to citation databases or grey literature 

Citation databases and grey literature sources are not designed to find resources using line-by-line searching. 

A more simplified design of your primary search strategy needs to be applied if you choose to search for relevant information in these types of information spaces. Subject Headings are not available in citation databases.



For further information and recommendations on helpful sources to find grey literature check out the Grey Literature guide