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Health (Nursing, Medicine, Allied Health): Search Tips

Guide to locating health evidence. View the EBP "pyramid" and link to tools for locating relevant research.

Tips for NARROWING your database search results

Retrieving too many articles?  Below are ways to narrow a search:

  • View the online thesaurus. Select a narrower, more specific term for your topic, for example:
     
    • in PubMed, search the MeSH thesaurus on infection and notice narrower MeSH terms such as  catheter-related infections [MeSH]
       
    • In PsycINFO, a thesaurus search on Sleep reveals that narrower terms under Sleep include Napping, NREM Sleep, REM Sleep
       
    • In the CINAHL thesaurus, Education, Nursing is a broad term, with narrower headings for 
         
      Education, Nursing, Baccalaureate
         Education, Nursing, Graduate
  • Narrow with subheadings (restrict your search to a subtopic of interest) 

    • e.g., in PubMed:  Hand hygiene/standards

    • e.g., in CINAHL:  Management Styles/trends
       
  • Apply LIMITS. Use the feature that allows you to edit or limit search results:
    • Are you looking for an overview of a topic?  "Review" articles synthesize a review of the literature that an author conducts at a certain point in time.  A good quality review article may provide a useful overview and starting point.
       
  • LIMIT by Age group if appropriate.
     
  • LIMIT results by year of publication, language, etc.

 

  • Limit by using tools that apply preformulated filters to search topics, for example:

o       PubMed Clinical Queries http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/pubmedutils/clinical (PubMed research methodology filters are explained here)

o       CINAHL Clinical Queries (click on “Show More, Search Options, to locate limits for clinical queries filters)

  • Pre-evaluated, pre-synthesized sources (including “systematic reviews”) aggregate the best evidence for a given topic.  They may appraise the quality of studies and often make recommendations for practice.
     

Tips for EXPANDING your database search results


Retrieving too few articles?  Below are ways to expand (broaden) your search:

  • Harvest added search terms (synonyms for one or more of your search terms) by viewing the records retrieved in your initial search. For example, a search for health care reform may retrieve citations described with added terms you can "harvest" for an expanded search:

    health care reform bill OR health care bill OR (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) OR Affordable Care Act OR PPACA OR Health Care Reform/legislation & jurisprudence [MeSH] OR Obamacare

  • Use the online thesaurus.  Each database has an online thesaurus of controlled vocabulary terms.

o       In CINAHL, use the CINAHL Headings link to explore the tree structure of terms; EXPLODE to include narrower terms

o       In PubMed, do a search using the MESH dropdown option; explore the tree structure of terms; using a broader term automatically EXPLODES to include narrower terms

o       In PsycINFO, click on Search Tools, Thesaurus; explore the tree structure of terms; EXPLODE to include narrower terms

  • Truncate one or more of your search terms

o       Truncation symbols in a database, such as * or ?  allow you to search on a root word and include plurals

  • Diab* (to retrieve diabetes, diabetic, diabetogenic)
  • Autis* (to retrieve autism, autistic)
  • Nurs* (to retrieve nurse, nurses, nursing, etc.). 

o       Warning! Truncation may also retrieve false hits.  A search on nurs* retrieves  “nursery school”

 

  • "Citation pearl growing" uses a relevant source to lead to more sources on a topic.
     
    • Look for a link to "Related" articles or “find similar results."  Also known as "snowballing."
    • From a relevant article, follow up on citations in the bibliography (the "ancestry" method)
    • Use the "cited references" feature if available.  More about "cited reference searching" is described here.
  • Try another database.  Often the scope of the database doesn't match your search needs. Review the specialized health sciences databases here.
     
  • Pre-evaluated, pre-synthesized sources (including “systematic reviews”) aggregate the best evidence for a given topic.  They may appraise the quality of studies and often make recommendations for practice. Look at the categories of Systematic Reviews, Critically Appraised Topics, Critically Appraised Articles.