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Expert Searching

1. When to Use Embase

Embase has over 41 million records, including articles from 8,100 peer-reviewed journal titles. Sixty topic areas are covered, including thirty core clinical and pharmacology topics that represent over 70% of Embase content. Embase also has over 3.6 million conference abstracts from over 11,500 conferences. The database has more of an international focus than PubMed, and also has greater coverage for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Note that this content is for the version of the database, not the Ovid version.

2. Embase Cool Tools

Embase's strengths lie in its comprehensive indexing and value-added tools. Explore the toolbar at the top of the search options for different options on drugs (PV Wizard, Drugs), medical devices, diseases, and PICO frameworks. Below, find tips for using PV Wizard, Drugs, and Medical Device search options.

Drug Searches

PV Wizard

The PV Wizard (PV stands for pharmacovigilance) allows the searcher to create straightforward queries that include trade names, generic names, and synonyms for drugs and pharmaceuticals. Access the PV Wizard from the search toolbar. Enter your desired drug name and follow the prompts for the most comprehensive drug search. The steps are briefly outlined in the screencast below.


While this search option is not fully comprehensive, it can help a searcher find literature on adverse events, toxicity, interactions, and specify routes of administration. The brief tutorial below outlines these steps.

Medical Device Searches

Medical Device

The Medical Device search is located in the Embase search toolbar. Enter the medical device name, browse and edit synonyms, and follow the prompts to create a comprehensive medical device search. The steps are outlined in the screencast below.

3. How to Use Emtree Controlled Vocabulary

Controlled Vocabulary: Emtree

  • Similar to MeSH in PubMed, Embase has a controlled vocabulary called Emtree. Terms are arranged hierarchically by subject categories with more specific terms arranged beneath broader terms.
  • Terms include chemical names, trade names, device names and laboratory/research codes mapped to generic names for more than 31,000 drugs and chemicals.
  • Emtree entries include more preferred terms and synonyms than MeSH.
  • Emtree terms allow for more comprehensive explosion than MeSH.

For more information about the differences between MeSH and Emtree, browse this useful whitepaper from Elsevier, "A Comparison of Emtree and MeSH."

Explode, No Explode, Major Focus

  • Explode will search with all subject headings below the main heading included and bring up all results listing any of these terms subject heading subheadings combinations. Command to search:/exp
  • No explode retrieves only the term specified and no headings below it. For example: 'botany'/de only finds records indexed with botany, and not ethnobotany, forensic botany, or palynology. Command to search: /de
  • As major focus will only search for your chosen Emtree term as a main term. Main terms are chosen by Emtree indexers to be the primary focus of an individual article. Command to search: /mj

Detailed information about Emtree vocabulary is available at Elsevier's support hub.

4. How to Use Keywords

Using Keywords

  • Keywords are any terms you would use in practice, as well as synonyms, variations in spelling, antonyms, initalisms, and acronyms.
  • Keyword terms can be single words or phrases.
  • Use quotes around all phrases to ensure that the phrase is searched together.
  • Keywords for drugs should include trade, generic, and chemical names.

Keyword Generation

Keywords can be generated by

  • browsing entry terms in PubMed's MeSH, and synonyms in Embase's Emtree to add additional keywords to a concept.
  • looking at a few key articles and seeing how the terminology is used.
  • doing a few preliminary searches and browsing the results to see how the terminology is used.

5. Embase Pro Tips

Applying Filters

  • On the left side of the results are options to filter your search by Sources, Drugs, Diseases, Devices, etc. under the header “Results Filters.” Click the arrow next to each filter to see the available options.
  • Warning: filters such as species, ages, text availability, and subject discipline may unnecessarily exclude articles you want to see. When you apply these filters, you are using controlled vocabulary or database indexing to exclude articles. This is not always a reliable method of excluding articles.

Proximity Searching

  • Embase allows for proximity operators to search for terms within a certain number of words from each other. There are two types of proximity searching: NEAR/n and NEXT/n
  • NEAR/n searches for terms within the specified number of words from each other, in either direction. (therapy NEAR/5 sleep) looks for the word therapy within 5 words of sleep.
  • NEXT/n searches for terms within the specified number of words from each other, in the order the words are typed. For example, therapy NEXT/5 sleep would find “therapy for improved sleep,” but it would not find “sleep therapy.

Phrase Searching

Surround phrases with single or double quotes to search as a phrase. This will allow for a more precise search.


  • In Embase you can use a * at the root of a word to find multiple endings.  For example:
    • arthroplast* will return arthroplasty, arthroplasties, arthroplastic, arthroplastics, etc.
    • mobili* will return mobility, mobilization, mobilisation, mobilize, etc.
  • You can also use a ? as a wildcard to search for letter variants within a word (e.g. wom?n finds women and woman)
  • In Embase you can use truncation and phrase searching at the same time. e.g. "early childhood mobili*"
  • You can use truncation and quotation marks at the same time. For example, the search “sleep therap*” will return “sleep therapy” and sleep therapies”


  • To locate field limits (such as title, abstract), go to the "Advanced Search" page and click on the link for “fields” located in small print beneath the search box.  Default is "all fields," but by entering a search term and then clicking on one of these limits (for example, clicking "Abstract :ab") will add it to the search builder.
  • The Embase field tags that most closely resemble [tw] in PubMed are: abstract, title, keyword.  For example: 'vaccine':ti,ab,kw will search the title, abstract, and keywords
  • To search Title/abstract only use “:ab,ti.” For example: 'vaccine':ab,ti . This tag can also involve multiple search terms. For example: (opioid* OR narcotic*):ti,ab
  • Other commands include:
    • 'term':ti (Title)
    • 'term':ab (Abstract)
    • 'Smith A':au (Author)
    • 'term':ad (Author Address/Affiliation)
    • 'term':jt (Journal Title)
  • A comprehensive list of field tags, including those for drugs and devices, can be found at Elsevier's support hub.

6. Combining Search Terms and Concepts

Boolean Operators

  • A comprehensive search of Embase will include both controlled vocabulary (Emtree) and keyword terms.
  • Boolean operators are used to combine search terms. In Embase, you can use the operators AND, OR, and NOT.
  • Your search history is located on the search results page.
  • Boolean operators include:
    • OR—use OR between similar keywords, like synonyms, acronyms, and variations in spelling within the same idea or concept
    • AND—use AND to link ideas and concepts where you want to see both ideas or concepts in your search results
    • NOT—use to exclude specific keywords from the search; however, you will want to use NOT with caution because you may end up missing something important

7. Saving Your Searches

  • By saving your search, your strategy will be reproducible for another time and properly documented.
  • Explore options for citation management here, and find tips on how to export results.
  • To save searches in Embase, create an account by clicking on the “Register” link located at the top right of the page header. Save searches after logging in by clicking on the “Set email alert” link at the top of the search results.

8. Embase PDF Printable Handout