Document Type



Objective: The objective was to investigate the performance of two search strategies in the retrieval of primary research papers containing descriptive information on the sleep of healthy people from MEDLINE.

Methodology: Two search strategies - one based on the use of only Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the second based on text-word searching - were evaluated as to their specificity and sensitivity in retrieving a set of relevant research papers published in the journal Sleep from 1996 to 2001 that were preselected by a hand search.

Results: The subject search provided higher specificity than the text- word search (66% and 47%, respectively) but lower sensitivity (78% for the subject search versus 88% for the text-word search). Each search strategy gave some unique relevant hits.

Conclusions: The two search strategies complemented each other and should be used together for maximal retrieval. No combination of MeSH terms could provide comprehensive yet reasonably precise retrieval of relevant articles. The text-word searching had sensitivity and specificity comparable to the subject search. In addition, use of text words "normal," "healthy," and "control" in the title or abstract fields to limit the final sets provided an efficient way to increase the specificity of both search strategies.


Health Services Research | Nursing


This is the publisher's PDF version, originally published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association 92(3), as referenced in the recommended citation. The work herein was supported by National Institutes of Health grant no. RO1 NR 03880. The authors thank Lynda Baker for critically reviewing the manuscript.