Strategies for Searching EMBASE

A recently published article by Haynes et al (2005) studied how to optimally search EMBASE (see below for citation information). For those interested in searching for articles on EMBASE, you need to consider the factors of a search:

  • Sensitivity: The proportion of high quality articles retrieved;
  • Specificity: The proportion of low quality articles not retrieved;
  • Precision: The proportion of high quality articles retrieved; and,
  • Accuracy: The proportion of correctly classified articles.

EMBASE is “a comprehensive and international bibliographic database renowned for its extensive coverage of the drug and biomedical literature”, similar to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline. I’m told that EMBASE seems to cover the European literature better than Medline.

The authors suggest different search strategies depending on your need:

  • Searching for original articles (e.g., for a systematic review): Use a more sensitive search to identify all of the significant articles. You may need to search through more “noise”, but your search will be more robust and likely to identify all of the relevant articles.
  • Searching for quick answers (e.g., for treatment management options): Use a specific search because it takes less time and provides a narrower yield. You will probably find enough relevant articles to answer the clinical answer in a short time. But, you run the risk of missing a few relevant articles.

Citation Information:
Haynes, R.B., Kastner, M., Wilczynski, N.L., and the Hedges Team. (2005). Developing optimal search strategies for detecting clinically sound and relevant causation studies in EMBASE. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 5: 8. Available at:

*Note: Only a provisional version of the file is available online HERE. The final version should be available soon.