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RefWorks for Embase: Activity 3: Database searching (Embase)

Database search activity

Embase is a key database, indexing articles from a range of journals in the subjects of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.  It is available to you as a University member via the Library's discovery tool FindIt.  Use Embase to find quality, peer-reviewed articles relevant to your subjects, where the University has a subscription.  Save your searches, and send article references (with links) to software such as RefWorks.  

Access to Embase is as part of the Ovid group of databases which also includes Medline (the content of PubMed). 

Go to FindIt@Bham and select Databases at the top: search for Embase and select either option (Classic or Excerpta).

In the following list, choose Embase (1974 - recent date).  Tick the box and click OK (or just click on the title). 

Having set out your search plan and found Embase on FindIt, now:

  • enter keywords (one at a time!)
  • find useful Subject Headings (MeSH)

In the advanced search screen, keep the "Map term to subject heading" box ticked.  This will point you to the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), which are attached to each article in the database.  MeSH describe the contents and help you to find the best articles on your topic.  Combining relevant headings helps you to find targeted and precise results.

Use your topic from the search sheet, or this - 

​       Example:  

  • "Use of warfarin in stroke prevention"


  • Enter Warfarin in the search bar and click "Search"

  • Find the subject heading Warfarin on the following page
  • Tick the box to the left of Warfarin and click Continue at the top of the screen
  • Select "Include all subheadings" on the next screen
  • This should take you to the home page again, with Warfarin at the top, and results lower down


  • Now enter "Stroke" in the search bar and Search
  • This gives the heading "Cerebrovascular accident"
    • To check what a term means, select  the Scope note to the right ('i')
    • Click the heading itself to check for any Broader Terms or Narrower Terms 
    • Tick "Explode" to the right of the term, to include narrower headings

  • "Continue", and then tick to "Include all subheadings"
  • Back on the main page, you should now have "Warfarin" then "Cerebrovascular accident" on separate lines


  • Use the same procedure as above to find and add the term "prevention"
  • Note: you can also untick "Map term to subject heading" and just search for an in-text keyword instead of a subject heading.  See the tab "MeSH - headings and keywords" for more information

See the next tab - Embase search part 2 - to look at how to combine results to narrow down to  your specific topic. 



Having found your initial subject headings (or freetext keywords if required), now:

  • Tick the box to the left of each term towards the top of the screen
  • Note the grey boxes "And", "Or", underneath the headings, which have now become active
  • Click on AND - this will filter the results to leave just those which are about all the topics - Stroke (cerebrovascular accident) and prevention and warfarin 


  • In the middle of the screen, there are limits, for example English Language, Publication Dates 
  • The "Additional Limits" (click the bar) include age groups, publication types (eg Clinical Trials, Systematic Reviews)
  • Choose one or more and click Search to place these limits on the final search line 


  • Now look at the results lower down the screen
  • You can use the "Abstract" arrow to look at a summary, or select "Complete reference" to the right of the article
  • To view the Full Text, click on the FindIt@Bham icon link to the right of the article, or "Full Text" if this is available


A NOTE ABOUT Boolean operators (AND / OR / NOT)

  • OR means "either - or" and brings synonyms, related terms, or alternatives together.
  • For example, if you 
    • eg: aspirin - "acetylsalicylic acid" - as well as warfarin.  You could then combine both types with OR to bring these together as a broader grouping, before using AND to combine them with "prevention" and "cerebrovascular accident"
  • AND narrows the results down to material about all of the headings you have selected
    • "Warfarin" AND "cerebrovascular accident" AND " prevention"
  • NOT is a further option to exclude unwanted by verbally connected items: "Primary AND care NOT education")

See the RockwellShrock page for a useful illustration

From the Library: Guide to Effective Learning for information about Boolean operators and other search techniques

  1. Carry out your search on Embase using the MeSH subject headings (or general in-text keywords if these are more helpful).  
  2. Select individual results, then tick the boxes by the items you wish to save, and select Export. 
    • In the pop-up box, select - RefWorks - Complete Citation to export to RefWorks. 
    • You may need to "Click this link to open the document" 
    • In the pop-up box, select RefWorks and Complete Citation 
    • Select Export
  3. On the next screen, choose the newer RefWorks - with the blue logo - to export results to your Last Imported folder in RefWorks
  4. You can then transfer these to a named folder.
    • Use Assign to folder (folder icon at top)
    • Create to name and set up a folder



Emtree headings

  • Embase uses the Emtree set of subject headings to describe items indexed in the database
  • These operate on the same principle as MeSH in Medline (further below), but relate to the subject areas of Embase


FREETEXT searches: or, an alternative to "MeSH"  and Emtree headings

If there is no relevant subject heading for your concept, you can use free text/keyword searching – to do this, untick the Map Term to Subject Heading box, and type your keyword(s) into the search box.

  • Use the OR function to combine related terms - eg GP OR "family doctor" OR "family physician"
  • Use the * (wildcard) to indicate alternative word endings - eg therap* for therapy, therapies, therapist and so on
  • Use adjn for adjacency, e.g. family adj2 therap*

Once you have searched for all of your concepts, you will need to combine them as before, using OR, then AND as appropriate. 


MeSH are Medical Subject Headings - or thesaurus or indexing terms - and form a structure for Ovid Medline and for PubMed. 

Embase uses Emtree (see above). 

  • MeSH may have narrower topics nested within them (a bit like Russian dolls): tick Explode to include these as well. Any narrower topics will be indented further to the right than the broader headingBroader or higher-level headings will be further to the left.  
  • In Embase, these will be labelled simply as 'Broader Terms' and 'Narrower Terms'. 
  • Note: you can use the Scope note at the right for a definition of the term and other information. 

Medline example:


Embase example:




University Library, Radboud University (2019) Embase (English): Emtree.  Available at: (Accessed 1 February 2019)




This example uses the topic search "Use of warfarin or aspirin in stroke prevention".


Enter warfarin in the main search bar, and locate the subject heading.



(If there is no appropriate heading at any stage, you can tick the"search as keyword" option instead).



  • Then enter aspirin, and find the appropriate subject heading.  Tick "Explode" to include any narrower terms.

    Note that clicking on the small 'i' under Scope (right of screen) will produce a definition of the term, along with any relevant broader or narrower terms. 


  • As we are looking at the use of either Warfarin or Aspirin, we need to bring them together in one group of results.  To do so, tick the boxes to the left, and select OR option underneath.  


  • Continue with your subsequent search term:
    • Stroke - for which "cerebrovascular accident" is the subject heading
    • Prevention 
    • Again, if you are not satisfied with a subject heading, you can tick the "search as keyword" option

4. CONNECTING TERMS WITH "AND" to narrow down the search

  • The articles found will be listed at each stage lower down the screen.
  • You can use the "Limits" in the centre of the screen to further narrow results, eg for English Language, Review Articles, Publication date range (last 10 years for example.  The "Additional Limits" tab offers further options, eg Age Group.
  • Choose Abstract for the summary; Complete reference (on the right) for fuller details; look for the FindIt@Bham link to check for full-text access via our subscriptions. 
  • See the next tab here for saving results ("Print, email, export") or the whole of your search history ("Save all").

To save individual results, or sets of results, tick the box for "All" above the list of results in an Embase search, or individual boxes.

  • Then choose Print, Email or Export.

To save the whole search history - that is, everything you've been doing - go for "Save all" under the summary of the searches and then create an account with Ovid.  Add a search name and save the search to run again later.





The supplier of RefWorks (Proquest / Ex Libris) has a YouTube channel of related videos.  

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