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Mastering Keyword Searching

Building a Search Strategy

You can save yourself some time and frustration if you plan your search strategy before you start looking for articles. It's like having a shopping list before going to the grocery store. Of course you may be fuzzy on some of these items to begin with, and that's OK. You can refine your search strategy as you go.

You may also want to keep a record of your search strategy (and the decision making that went into it), because having a record of what, where, and how you searched can help you replicate your search later or make modifications to improve your results.

What's in a search strategy?

  • A focused question, possibly in the PICO(T) format.
  • Search terms (consider both keywords and subject headings)
  • An idea about the types of evidence you are looking for (e.g. statistics, original research, personal experiences, etc.)
  • Where you'll search for that evidence - databases, search engines, individual websites, etc.
  • Filters/Limits you'll apply to your search
  • Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria - how you'll decide which articles, etc. you'll cite

For more about all of these elements, look at the boxes below and in the blue tabs on the left. 

Asking a Clinical Question with 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.