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A Guide for Nurses and Nursing Students



1. Identify key concepts and brainstorm search terms for each

  • Break down your topic, PICOT question, or clinical scenario into searchable keywords
  • Using the "preferred terminology" in the database increases the success of your work.
    • In PubMed, this is called MeSH (for Medical Subject Headings)
    • In CINAHL, this is called CINAHL Headings
    • In EMBASE, this is called Emtree
    • Scopus uses keyword searching only, there is no "preferred terminology"

2. Build search strings using "AND", "OR" and sometimes, "NOT"

  • Learn more about Boolean operators
  • "AND" narrows your topic - Use in between separate concepts
    • childhood diabetes AND nutrition plan
    • nurses AND simulation
  • "OR" broadens your topic - Use in between synonyms
    • drug addiction OR drug dependence
    • tumor OR neoplasm OR cancer
  • "NOT" eliminates elements from your topic.  Use "NOT" sparingly and with caution; it is easy to cancel out important articles.
    • sleep disorders NOT narcolepsy
    • palliative care NOT hospice

3. Choose the right resources or databases to search

  • Consider books and e-books for background information
  • Articles can provide current evidence to answer specific patient or clinical information
  • Use articles to find evidence for evidence-based health care
  • PubMed (bio-medical literature) and CINAHL (nursing and allied health) are great starting points for finding peer-reviewed biomedical articles

4. Use search tips or help sections in your chosen database for more tricks to focus your searches

  • Each database searches differently.  Some use subject terms that include popular synonyms.  Others search by keyword only.
  • Look for additional subject terms and keywords on article abstract pages to help you expand or focus your search.
  • PubMed and CINAHL have "limits" for language, patient ages, publication types, date, and more.
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