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Copy of Systematic Reviews RD May 24 to consult with Academic Skills: Translating your search strategy

Adapt search syntax for different databases


Translating your strategy: Adapt Search Syntax for Different Databases

For each database you search, the structure of the search strategy remains the same. However, all databases have a slightly different search interface and offer slightly different search options. It is important that you explore the search options for each database you will search for the systematic review, and adapt the search strategy accordingly.

Search techniques


Subject headings


Most databases use unique subject headings to index their articles - for each database adapt these subject headings. For more information, see:


Note: Some databases (Web of Knowledge, SCOPUS) don’t use subject headings, so you are relying on searching authors’ words – remember to think of different words to describe the topic.







Search fields

The fields you can search free-text terms (or the combination of them) vary between the databases. 








Phrase searching, truncation, wildcards, Boolean and proximity operators

Different databases offer different wildcard characters and commands.











Automation tools


Automation Tools

There are various translation tools available that can help you translate the search strategy from one database to another. 

None of these tools are perfect and you still need to understand how the databases work.

Note!  You need to report on the use of automation tools as per the PRISMA guidelines.

Polyglot Search Translator

The Polyglot Search Translator is a tool for translating search strings from Medline via Ovid or PubMed across multiple databases (CINAHL, Cochrane, Embase, Medline, PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science). It has been developed by the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare at Bond University.

Note!  Whilst Polyglot translates the syntax for controlled vocabulary terms, it can not automatically map the terms across databases (e.g. MeSH terms to Emtree terms). You need to do this manually.

Medline Transpose

Medline Transpose can help you convert the search syntax between PubMed and Medline via Ovid interfaces. The tool has been developed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (CPSBC) and the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (PenCLAHRC).

Ovid's Search Translation Tool

This translation tool developed by Ovid helps translate a PubMed search strategy to a Medline via Ovid or Embase via Ovid search strategy.

Elsevier's PubMed to EMBASE Search Translation Tool

"PubMed translation is currently at Beta stage, there might be some mistakes or errors."

See video below:


EBSCO Psycinfo translate from Ovid - links from Richard

Is this the best place for these links? For those who need to translate Ovid Psycinfo to EBSCO Psycinfo





Transitioning to EBSCOhost Help Sheets



Sep 13, 2023•Knowledge

The following Help Sheets offer searching shortcut comparisons to assist you in transitioning to EBSCOhost from other platforms or as a new subscriber to the following databases.



The APA PsycInfo helpsheet provides a direct comparison between the EBSCOhost interface and Ovid.



Subject headings

As each database has its own indexing system, you need to identify the subject headings for each database separately.

These are the subject headings for the concept of Dementia for some of our  health science databases (note the slightly different spelling): 

MeSH Terms PsycInfo Thesaurus CINAHL Headings Emtree Terms


Alzheimer disease


Alzheimer's disease


Alzheimer's disease


Alzheimer disease

Also, note how the syntax between different databases varies, even if they use the same heading; e.g. demonstrated for the three databases that use MeSH as the controlled vocabulary:

PubMed Ovid Cochrane

Dementia [mh]

Alzheimer disease [mh]

exp dementia/

exp Alzheimer disease/

MeSH descriptor: [Dementia] explode all trees

MeSH descriptor: [Alzheimer Disease] explode all trees

Search fields

Not all databases allow users to customise the search fields as freely as Ovid. Simply try to keep the search fields as consistent as possible. This table lists similar options in Health Science databases:

Medline via PubMed dementia [tiab]
Medline via Ovid dementia.ab,kf,ti.
Embase dementia.ab,kw,ti.
EBSCO PsycINFO TI dementia OR AB dementia
Cochrane dementia:ti,ab,kw
EBSCO CINAHL TI dementia OR AB dementia
Web of Science TOPIC: (dementia)
Scopus TITLE-ABS-KEY ( dementia ) 

Phrase searching, wildcards and proximity operators

Some databases offer a wider range of proximity operators and wildcards than others; plus the function of the symbols used varies between the databases. It is best to visit the Search Help menu for each database or see

The EPOC database syntax guide 

 From Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care  (EPOC) group resources for authors


Here are a few examples for the example search to illustrate the difference of symbols and meaning.



Ovid databases behavio?r.ab,kf,ti.

? stands for zero or one character within a word
finds behavior and behaviour

Cochrane behavi*r:ti,ab,kw

* is used to match multiple characters within a word
finds behavior and behaviour

CINAHL behavio#r.ab,kw,ti. # finds all citations of the word that appear with or without the extra character
finds behavior and behaviour
Web of Science TOPIC: (behavio$r)

$ useful for finding British and American spellings of same word
finds behavior and behaviour

Scopus Scopus finds common American/British English variant spellings automatically



Proximity operators

Ovid databases animal adj2 therapy.ab,kf,ti. animal and therapy need to be within 2 words of each other: one or no word between them
Medline via PubMed "animal therapy"[tiab:~2] Finds the terms when maximum number of words between them is two
Cochrane animal near/2 therapy:ti,ab,kw Finds the terms when maximum number of words between them is two
CINAHL (TI animal N2 therapy) OR (AB animal N2 therapy) N2 finds the words if they are within two words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear
Web of Science TOPIC: (animal NEAR/2 therapy) NEAR/2 maximum 2 words separate the terms
Scopus TITLE-ABS-KEY ( animal W/2 therapy )  W/2 finds the terms when they are within 2 words of one another