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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. Furthermore, 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 (keywords or 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. in your results to include

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.

Choosing Databases

Which databases you choose to search will largely depend on two factors:

  1. Your topic - because most academic databases are discipline specific, you'll want to select those databases that include literature on your topic.
  2. How comprehensive you want to be - if you are only looking for a few articles, you might only search one database, but if you need to be comprehensive in the literature you include, then you'll probably search several databases.

Here are some short videos to help you become familiar with the strengths, weakness, and topical coverage of a few of our most popular databases.