Skip to Main Content

Cochrane Library (English): 2. Find search terms

Search terms and synonyms

It is effective using as many relevant search terms or keywords as possible for each building block / concept. To start, search for MeSH terms (see Introduction). Then look for synonyms or free search terms that you can also use. Incorporate these in your search strategy to avoid missing relevant search results.

► Use this step-to-step plan for both the PICO method and the building block method.

Looking up MeSH terms

In the Advanced search screen, go to Medical terms (MeSH) to look up which keywords you can use.

Follow these steps to use relevant MeSH terms in your search:

1. Type a keyword in the MeSH search bar and choose Look up.
2. Open a search result.

► Here you will find broader (BT) and narrower keywords (NT): consider using these.
► You can also see which synonyms are searched with this MeSH term.

3. Place the MeSH term in the search engine via Add to search manager.
4. Search all relevant MeSH terms one by one.


Use Google to search for relevant synonyms:
► Type (e.g.) "hearing problem" synonyms to search for synonyms.
► Type ~tinnitus to search for tinnitus as well as synonyms.

Even reading general information on the internet can provide useful synonyms or additional search terms.
► E.g. Wikipedia

Tip: Ask ChatGPT to formulate keywords. This works in both English and Dutch, but does not replace the need to search yourself.


A thesaurus is a reference work that provides synonyms and antonyms for thousands of words. This can help you find more relevant search terms. For instance, use:

Van Dale Online

It can be useful to use Van Dale's online dictionaries (via the Zuyd licence). You cannot search for English-language synonyms, but you can search for Dutch-language ones. Then you can still search for an appropriate translation. | Disclaimer | Over Zuyd Bibliotheek