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NURS404 Nursing Research: Search Strategies

Narrowing the Search

Adams, S. , J.  (2012). Identifying research questions. In N. Schmidt & J. Brown (Eds.), Evidenced-based practice for nurses - Appraisal and application of research. (p. 68). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Use the PICO Method to develop your search. This method goes into detail on the next tabs of this guide. By using PICO you will be able to come up with a) something from clinical practice; b) a problem of interest; c) Research topic. you will be able to generate questions and discover questions top ask and nonresearchable questions. You will notice this process will take you to the nest 2 areas - researching the problem and researching the purpose and finally research questions and/or a hypothesis - in order to develop your literature review.

Advanced Searching: Using Controlled Vocabulary

Controlled vocabulary--also known as subject headingssubject termsthesaurus terms, or descriptors--are the official indexing  terms used by the organizers of a database to describe each concept so that all items on the same topic have the same descriptor or subject heading. 

In contrast to “free Web” searching, controlled vocabularies organize the information in a database. You can click on a heading to see all the other items that have the same heading. You can also combine the terms in a new search to find items on that topic.

Your search results will be more focused and more relevant, since you will be searching directly in the subject or descriptor field.

Controlled Vocabulary searching starts by exploring the Thesaurus or Subject headings of a database (see individual database tutorials for more information). Search through the thesaurus or subject headings  and combine relevant terms that apply to your topic.

Developing a Search Strategy

After developing a topic for your research, you must identify the main concepts of your topicBrainstorm search terms including synonyms, broader/narrower terms, related terms.

Develop a list of key terms (the vocabulary that surrounds your research question):

  1. Write down your research question in a complete sentence.
  2. Underline the most important words in the sentence.
  3. For each underlined item write down....
    1. related term
    2. synonyms
    3. narrower terms
    4. word variants
    5. broader terms


You may discover that not all terms will be successful in leading you to resources.Try a variety of combinations and keep track of which terms are the most useful. Also as you find sources for your topic, notice the terms in the sources title, abstract and assigned subject and descriptor terms. Add them to your keywords list.

This chart is one method in research strategy - called boolean searching. Take not on how you can constrcut your search and the types of results you my get find.