Boil your topic down to the most important words. Ignore superfluous words like in, the, of, with, against, affect, impact, improve.
Put each "different piece" of your topic in a separate search box, if available. Our topic: whether the Berg Balance Scale is valid or reliable for predicting which patients are at risk for falling. Enter each different piece of your topic on a separate line. Synonyms are connected by OR--and kept on the same line--as seen below with reliability OR reliable OR valid OR validity.
Too many results? Focus your search by searching for your keywords in the ABSTRACT field or the TITLE field. Click on the Select a Field (optional) to select the abstract or title field.
Too few results? Think of synonyms. Add synonyms to your search--using OR--and keep your synonyms all on the same line.
Increase your results by removing the least important "piece" of your search (while still retaining the "essence" of your search). In the case above, it might mean removing the reliability piece.
Still no results? Broaden your search slightly. Can't find specific articles on the Berg Balance Scale for assessing falls? Look for information on just the Berg Balance Scale; sometimes within these broader articles, you'll find helpful information--not quite exactly what you needed, but very close. Still no luck? Try a different journal article database.
When reviewing your results, look for relevant subjects, descriptors, or MeSH terms. Find these subject terms either on the results page, off to the left, or at the end of individual records. Write down any relevant subject terms that you find.
Go back to the search screen and using the subject terms or MeSH terms you discovered, search your subject terms in the subject or descriptor field. MeSH terms are gold threads--they will almost always lead you to the most relevant results, b/c they allow you to search for information about the topic, not just information that happens to contain those words somewhere in the record (but may not be relevant).
Be sure to take advantage of:
Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT)
Exact phrase searching -- "berg balance"
Field searches (searching within title, abstract, subject fields)
When you find an article you want, use the link to find full-text.
No full-text? Use the Interlibrary Loan link to get a copy.
Although the topic's unrelated to yours, the search strategies/concepts are extremely useful. Guaranteed to make you laugh and teach you valuable search skills.