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IACUC: searching for animal alternatives

A guide for finding alternatives to the use of animals in research for Penn State.

Strategy Tips

Combine terms properly (Boolean searching):Venn Diagrams for boolean logic of AND, OR and NOT

After brainstorming your keywords and synonyms, you need to combine those terms into search strings using the Boolean operators. 

  • OR broadens a search - either term will be present - use between synonyms within one concept
  • AND narrows a search - both terms must be present - use between concepts
  • NOT eliminates items - one term is not present - use with caution as it may eliminate relevant sources


Use parentheses around each concept (keywords linked with OR) to force the systems to search in the correct order.


(cow OR cattle OR bovine) AND ("pink eye" OR "infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis" OR Moraxella) AND ("tear fluid" OR "tear fluid collection" OR "cotton swab")

Use advanced search features:

  • Truncation: in many databases you can use an asterisk (*) to retrieve items with various word endings and spellings. For example:  child*  will find child, children, or childish. Other frequently used truncation symbols include a question mark (?) or a dollar sign ($).
  • Phrase Searching: most databases require quotation marks around the phrase. A phrase search will then locate only records containing the words in the particular order in which they appear.   Example: "artificial intelligence" instead of: artificial intelligence.
  • Limiting: many databases have advanced limiting features relevant to the subject.  Check for limiting by year, publication type (e.g. research article or review article), gender, or age groups.

Time Period:

Best practice would be to include at least the past ten years or more.

Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. Put synonyms in the columns for each specific concept, and when finished, "click to create a search statement."  You can copy/paste the search statement into the standard database search boxes to run your search.

Concepts and keywords
Instructions Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
Break the research question into concepts and put one concept in each box.

List alternatives for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words or short phrases.

Find additional terms in abstracts and summaries of the articles, books, and other sources you find during initial searches.

Search terms Search terms Search terms










Search Strategy Builder was originally created by University of Arizona Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

PubMed Specific Search Strategies

When searching PubMed it is often a good idea to use the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) to find relevant articles. MeSH headings are assigned to each article within PubMed by its staff and are intended to be consistent across articles. This allows them to return more relevant and consistent groups of articles when searched.

PubMed provides a searchable MeSH Database to help you identify the best terms for your search, which includes many that apply to a literature search for alternative research methods in animal studies.

You can also search only the title and abstract of the publication for your terms, this also increases the relevancy of your results.

See below for some PubMed search examples

Note: the tag [Mesh] searches for the term in the Medical Subject Headings used by PubMed.

Note: The tag [tiab] searches for the term in the title and abstract of the article in PubMed.

Reduction and Refinement search strategies for PubMed:

Combine these with terms describing your protocol or animal species.

("Pain"[Mesh] OR "Pain Management"[Mesh] OR "Anesthesia and Analgesia"[Mesh] OR  "Analgesics"[Mesh] OR "Analgesics"[Pharmacological Action] OR "Anesthetics"[Mesh] OR  "Anesthetics"[Pharmacological Action] OR "Animal Welfare"[Mesh] OR "Animal Use Alternatives"[Mesh] OR "Stress, Psychological"[Mesh] OR "Stress, Physiological"[Mesh] OR stress[tiab] OR distress[tiab] OR pain*[tiab] OR analgesia[tiab] OR analgesic*[tiab] OR anesthesia*[tiab] OR anesthetic*[tiab] OR welfare[tiab] OR alternative*[tiab] OR “Disease Models, Animal”[mesh] OR “animal model”[tiab])

Replacement search terms for PubMed:

Combine these with terms describing your protocol or research.

(("Computer Simulation"[Mesh] OR simulation[tiab] OR "Cadaver"[Mesh] OR cadaver[tiab] OR "Aborted Fetus"[Mesh] OR "aborted fetus"[tiab] OR "Culture Techniques"[Mesh] OR "Cells, Cultured"[Mesh] OR "cultured cells"[tiab] OR "cell culture"[tiab] OR "cell cultures"[tiab] OR vitro[tiab] OR "Models, Theoretical"[Mesh] OR model[tiab] OR models[tiab] OR modeling[tiab] OR modelling[tiab] OR "Manikins"[Mesh] OR manikin[tiab] OR manikins[tiab] OR mannequin[tiab] OR mannequins[tiab])) AND (("Imaging, Three-Dimensional"[Mesh] OR three-dimensional[tiab] OR 3D[tiab] OR 3-D[tiab]) AND (image[tiab] OR images[tiab] OR imaging[tiab]))

Common Animal Species search terms for PubMed:

“Cats”[Mesh] OR cat[tiab] OR cats[tiab] OR feline[tiab]

"Dogs"[Mesh] OR dog[tiab] OR dogs[tiab] OR canine[tiab] OR canines[tiab]

"Guinea Pigs"[Mesh] OR guinea pig[tiab] OR guinea pigs[tiab]

"Mice"[Mesh] OR mice[tiab] OR mouse[tiab] OR mus[tiab] OR murine[tiab]

(("Primates"[Mesh] NOT "Humans"[Mesh]) OR "non-human primate"[tiab] OR "non-human primates"[tiab])

“Rabbits”[Mesh] OR rabbit[tiab] OR rabbits[tiab] OR lagomorpha[tiab]

"Rats"[Mesh] OR rat[tiab] OR rats[tiab] OR rodent[tiab] OR rodents[tiab]

"Sheep"[Mesh] OR sheep[tiab] OR ovis[tiab] OR ovine[tiab]

"Swine"[Mesh] OR swine[tiab] OR pig[tiab] OR pigs[tiab] OR porcine[tiab]