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Citation databases differ in their coverage -- they cover different journals, publication years, and disciplines. Some databases have very extensive coverage, but even those contain only a portion of the wider literature. There is no single database that covers all items ever published. 

Because of this, when conducting a systematic and thorough literature search we must search in a range of sources to identify as many relevant studies as possible. Searching multiple citation databases is part of this process.


Once you have developed an effective search strategy for one database, you can then translate that search strategy to other databases. Translation is necessary because databases also vary in terms of the subject headings and, often, the syntax that they use -- in other words, how the database categorises the subject of each article and what type of commands it uses. 

Syntax differs between search platforms. Some databases, such as Cochrane Library, have their own search platform. Other databases may be available across a variety of search platforms, e.g. at Monash Health we access Medline via the Ovid platform, but as a university student you may have accessed Medline via EBSCO. 

Good news: keywords don't need to be translated! You can use the same keywords across any database or search platform.


Translating your search strategy to another database generally involves 3 steps. 

Step No. # Explanation Example
1. Translate subject headings

Substitute any subject headings used in your search strategy with the closest equivalent subject headings in the new database.




Explore new and even more relevant subject headings that may not have been available in the first database that you searched. This is especially true if you are searching across databases with a different discipline focus.

E.g. your initial search strategy in Medline contains the MeSH term Physical Therapists. When translating your strategy to Embase, the equivalent Emtree term is Physiotherapists.



E.g. while Medline has Neurotic Disorders, APA PsycInfo offers Neurosis as well as 4 narrower terms including Childhood Neurosis and Experimental Neurosis.

2. Translate syntax

If you will be searching on a new platform, you need to substitute the syntax in your original search strategy for the syntax used in the new search platform.

See the next tab for the syntax used in key health and medicine databases/search platforms.

E.g. Physical Therapists/ in Ovid becomes [mh ^"Physical Therapists"] in Cochrane.
3. Run translated search in new database Open the new database or search platform and enter your translated search strategy line by line. Preserve the structure of the original strategy -- keep the search lines in the same order. E.g. in Ovid, simply change the selected 'Resource' (database) and 'Run Search' in the new database. When translating your Ovid Medline search to Cochrane, open Cochrane Library > Advanced Search > Search Manager and enter each line of your Medline search separately.

Key tips

  • Search Medline via our Ovid search platform. This makes it easier to translate the search to other databases that are also available via Ovid because you don't have to change the syntax. At Monash Health, Medline, Embase, Emcare, and PsycInfo are all available via Ovid.
  • Always check to see if there are any relevant systematic reviews in Cochrane Library
  • Try using Polyglot, an online tool to help you translate your search strategies. Warning: the Polyglot does not translate subject headings, only syntax. It is still important to double-check the results.
  • For advice, contact the Library team or book a research consultation with a librarian using the research support request form.

Request research support

For each medical database you search, the key concepts and structure of your search strategy remains the same. However, all databases have a slightly different search interface, search options and search syntax.

Subject Headings - Subject heading terms as well as syntax may change across databases. Take notice of the syntax changes for the heading - Physiotherapist :

Ovid Medline             Physical Therapists              
Ovid Embase            physiotherapist/                      
Cochrane                  [mh ^"Physical Therapists"]  
PubMed                    Physical Therapists [mh]       

Keyword search fields - Field searching lets you tell a database exactly where you want your keywords to be found. Do you want to look for the keyword in the title or abstract, or both? Perhaps you want to search for a specific publication type or author keywords. Search fields vary from database to database. The Help function in each database usually lists the different search fields, or field codes, available

E.g. Searching for the keyword ‘neoplasm’ within the title or abstract field:

  • neoplasm.ti,ab. - Ovid Medline, Embase, Emcare and PsycInfo
  • neoplasm:ti,ab  - Cochrane
  • neoplasm[tiab] - PubMed

Phrase Searching, Truncation, Wildcards and Proximity Operators - these differ greatly between databases. Look for the 'Help' tab in each database to get started. For more information on these functions see Shortcuts for efficient searching in Ovid

Quick reference syntax table:

Monash Health Library provides group training. Browse the library webinar calendar for upcoming sessions on:

  • Advanced Literature Searching - Includes Medline demonstration
  • ClinicalKey Database - Search Training
  • ProQuest Nursing & Allied Health Database – Search Training

Library Webinar Calendar

Custom training sessions can be arranged to fit with a team meeting or existing professional development schedule. Email for more information.

Searching the Cochrane Library - 2m 50s video

Ovid Medline and translation to Embase - 20min 

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