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NURS 70630: Research & Methods for Evidence-based Practice: Basic Search Strategies

Step-by-step directions

How do I identify the journal articles that I need?

Research databases are the tools for finding the articles you need. They:

  • index the journal articles of a specific subject area
  • allow for searching by keywords and, in the sciences and clinical fields, by formal subject terms (controlled vocabulary)
  • provide for combining terms using logical operators to get more relevant results
  • offer ways to limit to further customize results
  • link to a copy of identified e-journal article or provide information on obtaining a copy
  • give output options including printing, emailing, downloading, or "exporting" results (see supported citation managers)

The list of research databases useful for searching nursing topics are listed on the Nursing Resources guide on the "Databases" tab.  The most frequently used research databases in nursing are:

Basic Search Steps

Use these same steps in searching any research database:

  • Define your topic: Often this is not obvious. You want to think through what your topic and research question are then identify the specific areas of interest. The goal is to develop a topical statement, for example: "research on the use of pet therapy with dementia patients."
  • Choose your database: CINAHL will be often be your first choice. Remember that other health sciences databases may be useful as well.
  • Plan your search strategy and choose search terms. Sometimes one concept may have different terms that apply. Will you search using keywords, subject terms? Try using a search strategy worksheet. See the box below for examples.
  • Search on each concept separately and then combine using the appropriate logical operator (AND, OR). Use the Search History in CINAHL to do this.
  • Apply any needed limits by refining your search. Examples: research article published in the last 5 years, articles focusing on patients of particular age.
  • Review and mark useful results.
  • Output relevant references: print, e-mail, download, export to RefWorks. Use the references to build your bibliography.

Search Strategies

Search effectively!

Try using a search strategy worksheet to identify key concepts in your topic:

  • Write out a clear, detailed statement of your topic.
  • Identify the concepts embodied in the topic statement.
  • List words which authors would use to describe your topic concepts.
  • Build a search from the concept words.