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NP-732 Primary Care Across the Lifespan

Search Terms and Subject Headings

Keywords

When you search with keywords, you are trying to find words that authors have used in their titles and abstracts or somehow otherwise appear in the article's entry in a database. Therefore you need to brainstorm all of the possible ways authors could refer to your concept:

"endurance" OR "physical fitness"

"education" OR "training" OR "school" OR "learning"

Subject Headings

Alternatively, you can search using subject headings. Databases assign these words to articles to describe the concepts in an article and to try to take some of the guesswork out of the job of coming up with keywords. Try searching with subject headings and see how your results differ from searching with just keywords.


Still unsure about subject headings? Watch this video for another explanation.

Interested in text tutorials? Click the PDF links below:

PICO(T)

Asking an answerable clinical question...and making your database searching much easier in the process.

Use this PICO(T) template to craft your question and then use this PICO(T) worksheet to help develop your own topic.

Modifying an Unsuccessful Search

If you aren't happy with the list of articles your search brings back, here are some ways you might think about changing your search.

1. Too many articles / Articles aren't on topic

  • Make your topic more specific. You could add words to describe the
    • population
    • setting
    • treatment or intervention
    • outcome
  • Make your terms more specific. For example
    • "women" becomes "women over 50"
    • "analgesic" becomes "opioid"
    • "recovery" becomes "length of stay"

2. Too few articles

  • Make your topic less specific
    • focus on the core ideas (remove unnecessary details)
    • choose less specific terms ("exercise therapy" becomes "exercise")
  • Look for different search words 
    • synonyms - brainstorm synonyms (e.g. "length of stay" = "hospital stay") or different forms of a word (e.g. therapy, therapies, therapeutic)
    • scan abstracts and subject headings to find out which words authors and databases are using to describe your topic.

Photo by Anant Nath Sharma, used with permission under a Creative Commons license