In complementary and alternative medicine, a number of basic problems exist for people who search for research-based information, one of which is the way that articles are indexed within the major databases. An exploration of the indexing of acupuncture studies was conducted as part of a review of research on the effectiveness of specific complementary therapies in cancer. Examination of several thesauri demonstrated variability in the terminology used for acupuncture and acupuncture-related therapies. Search strategies reported in published reviews also varied. Consequently, a series of acupuncture-related terms were used to search six major databases. The results provide an indication of the specificity and sensitivity of each term and also suggest which terms may be required for a relatively sensitive search for studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture therapy. A more detailed analysis of relevant research articles revealed a further issue for consideration--that of the variability in indexing by study type. While on MEDLINE randomized controlled trials are routinely identified as a specific publication type, on other databases and for other study types, the situation is less straightforward.