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Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner: Search Strategies

Searching Databases using a PICO Question

Getting Started with Searching

There are many different ways to search for information in databases.

Here is one way to get you started with searching:

  1. Identify main concepts for your topic. Conduct a search using keywords. Identify relevant results.  
  2. Figure out the terms that the database uses for your concepts by seeing the subject headings or MeSH terms found in records of relevant results and also listed under Refine Results (EBSCO databases).
  3. Conduct a second search using subject headings. Searching with subject headings can retrieve even more relevant results.

If a database has a thesaurus (CINAHL has CINAHL Headings), you can browse it for subject headings, see the scope note or definition of a subject heading, and see related terms that you might use. 

Search Tips:

  • Keep track of the terms you've searched to avoid repeating searches.
  • Consider using a citation manager, such as Refworks, to export citations of relevant results along the way. 

Need help with searching? Ask a librarian for help.

Finding Specific Articles or Journals

If you come across a citation to an article and you'd like to track down its full text, here are a couple of options:

"qualitative study of determinants of ptsd treatment initiation"

Steps for using Periodical List to find journal coverage.


Five Database Search Commands
Phrase Searching:  Quotations are placed around a phrase. Phrase Searching Example:  "inhaled corticosteroid" returns articles containing the exact phrase in the order it is typed.
Add concepts to your search string using the Boolean operator AND. Boolean Operator AND Example:  "pediatric patient" AND asthma returns articles discussing both concepts.
Add alternate concepts to your search string using the Boolean operator OR. Boolean Operator OR Example:  "physical activity" OR "physical exercise" returns articles that only mention physical activity or articles that only mention physical exercise.
Truncation:  An asterisk truncates the term and commands the database to search for the term with any possible ending. Truncation Example:  medicat* returns articles containing medication, medicate, medicating
Wildcard:  A letter is replaced with a question mark (?) within a word.

Wildcard Example: 

wom?n returns articles containing woman, women