You can save yourself some time and frustration if you plan your search strategy before you start looking for articles. What's in a search strategy?
Putting your research question into the PICO(T) format helps ensure that your question is answerable. It also provides you with the search terms and other parameters that you will need to apply in the databases. Usually, you can pull keywords directly from the PICO(T) question.
For more about subject headings, filters/limits, and exclusion criteria, see the boxes below.
It is important to choose your search terms/keywords carefully. Is there more than one term for the concept for which you are searching? Are you using a technical term or the layman's version? For example, if you are researching sensory integration therapy, it is also known in the literature as sensory motor integration. Likewise, when looking for articles about cultural effectiveness, you might also search cultural competence, and by only searching the former, you could miss articles that use the latter. To avoid leaving out relevant articles, use all of the possible terms for your concept:
"sensory integration" OR "sensory motor integration"
"cultural effectiveness" OR "cultural competence"
Alternatively, you can search using subject headings. All databases have a list of controlled vocabulary words that seek to apply a single term to a single concept. When you use subject headings, you do not have to brainstorm all of the possible synonyms for your search term, because the database does that for you. When you enter a search term, CINAHL and Ovid are set up to automatically suggest subject headings. For instance if you search sensory integration, CINAHL will show you a list of subject headings, of which Sensory Motor Integration is the first result. 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.
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.
1. Too many articles / Articles aren't on topic
2. Too few articles
Photo by Anant Nath Sharma, used with permission under a Creative Commons license