UTS Library

91614 Evaluating TCM: Search strategy

In this guide:

Before you search

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What types of evidence are best for your question?

  2. Do you have any inclusion or exclusion criteria?

  3. Which databases will you search to find evidence? 

  4. Which keywords and subject headings will you use?

  5. How will you store and manage your results?


Types of evidence

We recommend you refer to the hierarchy of evidence when considering relevant evidence for your question.


Inclusion and exclusion criteria

For some researchers, they will have specific things they want to include or possibly exclude from their search.

For example:

  • Peer-reviewed evidence
  • English language
  • Published in the last ten years
  • moxibustion
  • massage



It's recommended to search more than one database to ensure you have found all the available evidence.

Access our list of evidence-based practice databases such as Medline and Natural Medicines.

Medical Subject headings (MeSH) 

To search effectively, you need to brainstorm all the words and related words that different researchers might have used. 

A lot of medical databases use MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) terms rather than keyword searches. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) is the controlled vocabulary used for indexing PubMed and Medline citations.  MeSH provides a consistent way to retrieve information where different terms are used by authors for the same concept.  MeSH Features MeSH contains over 27,000 descriptors. It is updated weekly and reviewed annually. MeSH are a controlled vocabularly, meaning that articles are classified and grouped together because they've been evaluated and found to be relevant to the term.

Tips to use MeSH

1. Open  MeSH browser, type in your own keywords and choose "Any Fragment" to run a search.

2. Choose the most ralevant MeSH term(s) by reading Scope Note, for example, the MeSH term for Acupuncture is Acupuncture Therapy.

3. Look at Mesh Tree Structures of Acupuncture Therapy  to find broader and narrower terms, these terms will be useful if you want to expend or narrow your topic.

Here's a short video to explain keywords and subject headings:

The PICO table can also help you brainstorm and document keywords and subject headings (MeSH = medical subject headings):


knee osteoarthritis,


AcupunctureNo treatmentPain relief
osteoarthritis, knee (MeSH)acupuncture therapy (MeSH)  pain management (MeSH)
 acupuncture  pain relief

Download your own PICO table

Storing and managing information

When searching for evidence, you may find lots of articles and it can be difficult to keep track of your findings.

Use referencing software

There are several referencing software tools that can make this easier such as EndNote and RefWorks.

Download EndNote X9 handout.

Save your search

Most databases allow you to create your personal account so that you can save your search strategy and results.

Here are the instructions for creating an account in Medline (Ovid).