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Nursing

Guide for library resources in the Nursing field

4 Major Search Strategies

Below are four major search strategies that you can use to systematically search across multiple databases, although the example below is from a PubMed search.  Doing so will ensure with reasonable certainty that you do not miss important, relevant research on your topic.  The example PICO (Research) question was chosen to illustrate the effectiveness, strengths, and weaknesses of each search strategy since examples relevant to this topic are retrieved using each strategy in PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane, and PsycInfo.

4 Search Strategies:

The examples below use this research or PICO question as a starting point: In elderly with high risk of falling, is tai chi effective in preventing or reducing falls?

*Examples refer to searching in PubMed, but the same methods can be used in other databases

Use the 2 Broad Strategies to get a snap shot of a database and find out how much and what type of material it has on your topic; look through results to find more ideas for keywords or ideas for Subject Headings that will be relevant to your topic

Use the 2 Targeted Strategies to focus in on the most relevant results for your topic, and to take advantage of the Subject Heading tags used to match up articles that have major coverage of a topic - regardless of the phrasing or terms used by each individual author

2 Broad Strategies:

  • Keyword
    • Example: falls tai chi
    • *In some Research Databases, such as Academic Search Premier, you must include 'and' between keywords: falls and tai chi
  • Keyword with Synonyms
    • Example: 
    • Use Advanced Search option in database - so you'll have rows and boxes to structure your search
    • 1st row: (falls OR falling OR balance)
    • 2nd row AND: (tai chi OR tai ji)
    • Using () around more than one synonym with 'OR' between them tells the research database (ex: PubMed) that you want any word within each group, and you want at least 1 word from each group.  This will give you results that have falls and tai ji, and also results with balance and tai chi, for example.

2 Targeted Strategies:

  • Keyword in Title
    • Example
    • Use Advanced Search option in database - so you'll have rows and boxes to structure your search, and so you'll have the drop down menu to change the field you want to search.  In this case, change from 'All fields' (the default in PubMed) to 'Title'
    • 1st row: (falls OR falling OR balance)
    • 2nd row AND: (tai chi OR tai ji)
    • Using () around more than one synonym with 'OR' between them tells the research database (ex: PubMed) that you want any word within each group, and you want at least 1 word from each group.  This will give you results that have falls and tai ji, and also results with balance and tai chi, for example.
  • Subject Headings
    • Example
    • Use Advanced Search option in database - so you'll have rows and boxes to structure your search, and so you'll have the drop down menu to change the field you want to search.  In this case, change from 'All fields' (the default in PubMed) to 'MeSH'
    • 1st row: accidental falls
    • 2nd row: tai ji

CINAHL Search Tip!

CINAHL searching via ASU Library is set up with 'Suggest Subject Terms' as the default search.

  • This is a real benefit when this feature suggests Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) that will focus your search results  and provide you with relevant results on that subject heading, regardless of the specific terms or phrases used by each author to describe the topic

  • *If you want to do a Keyword search - to simply search a word or phrase that comes up within the article title, journal title, abstract (summary) of any document included in CINAHL, you can turn off the Suggest Subject Terms feature by doing the following:

  • Un-check the check box next to 'Suggest Subject Terms' above the search box

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