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NS-532 Evidence Based Practice and Leadership

Steps for a Successful Search

The information on this page will help guide your search when you're ready to look in the databases for research articles.

  1. Decide which databases you will use. The list  in the box below is a good place to start.
  2. Choose your search terms or subject headings and enter them into the database search engine(s).
  3. Apply limits or filters to narrow down the results. Some limits/filters that may be useful to you are:
    • Research articles
    • Age groups
    • Published within the last 5 years
  4. Evaluate the results and apply exclusion criteria. (See bottom box below.)

These are the details and steps you should include in your lit review when describing your search strategy!

Databases & Search Engines

The following databases and search engines are all excellent tools with which to look for research articles. Tutorials for using some of these tools are available on other tabs.

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.

Screaming Person Logo

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

  • Make your topic more specific. 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

Limits vs. Exclusion Criteria

Limits = these are part of your database search, and are set as options in the database itself.  They are usually things like article publication dates (e.g. articles published in the last 5 years), language the article is written in, or age of the subjects in the study.

In Ovid, look for the button that says "Additional Limits."

   Limits in Ovid Search

In CINAHL, look for all the check boxes and menus on the search screen or the section that looks like this on the page with the articles from your search.
CINAHL Search

Exclusion Criteria = these are the reasons you give for not including a study in your literature review.  They tend to be things that are not easy to include as a search word and that the database can't select on its own (limits).  As an example, for the breast cancer fatigue topic, one of the exclusion criteria will be studies that looked at patients who were still undergoing treatment.