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This LibGuide connects you to the information resources you need to be successful in nursing research and evidence-based practice

Essential Search Strategy Techniques

Strategy Function

A keyword search is similar to "Google-like" searching where the database will retrieve results based on the terms you enter

Does not take into consideration the context of those terms

Typically retrieves several results, although many may not be relevant to the topic

Keyword searching is very flexible and is a good way to begin a search, especially if you are unsure of the correct terminology to use.  As you begin reading through your results, you may notice trends and patterns in terminology (including subject headings/controlled vocabulary) that you can then apply and adapt to your search strategy.   

VIDEO TUTORIALS: CINAHL Basic Searching EBSCOhost Basic Searching 

Subject Headings

(also known as "controlled vocabulary")

A targeted, specific way to search using a database's built-in controlled vocabulary 

Various databases have their own subject headings - i.e. CINAHL Headings in CINAHL and the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in MEDLINE/PubMed.  

Controlled vocabulary subject headings function like a thesaurus and will take into consideration synonyms, abbreviations, and variations in spelling

Typically retrieves fewer results than keyword searching, yet results are oftentimes more relevant  

VIDEO TUTORIALS: CINAHL & MeSH Subject Headings | PubMed Subject Searching

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators provide a logical way to combine keyword or subject heading terms using AND, OR, or NOT

AND will narrow your search by combining one of more terms together

OR will broaden your search by retrieving results on any of the terms you enter 

NOT will exclude designated terms from your results 

VIDEO TUTORIALS: CINAHL Advanced SearchingPubMed Advanced Search Builder  


Use of an asterisk * after the root of a word will search for various word endings 

nurs* will find nurse, nurses, nursing

anesth* will find anesthesiology, anesthetist, anesthesiologist 

Phrase Searching

Use of quotes will tell the database to retrieve results with that exact phrase

"Algase Wandering Scale" 

"mindfulness-based stress reduction"


Use of parentheses will group desired search terms together in combination with appropriate Boolean operators

(dementia OR "Alzheimer* disease") AND ("fall prevention" OR "fall risk assessment") 

This search will find results on dementia AND either "fall prevention OR "fall risk assesment"

It will also find results on "Alzheimer* disease" AND either "fall prevention OR "fall risk assesment"


After conducting a search in a database, you can filter, refine and narrow your search results by applying limiters or filters. 

Options for narrowing your results are often located along the left side of your database search results page. Select appropriate limiters/filters that are relevant to your topic or your information need. 

Common options include publication date, type of article, age group, gender, etc. 


Organizing Search Terms with Boolean Operators

Boolean logic was developed by English mathematician and philosopher George Boole (1815 - 1864) to describe relationships between concepts.

The Boolean operators AND, OR, or NOT can be used in a database search to logically arrange your search terms together. 

Below are examples of how you can use Boolean operators to make your search for information more effective, efficient, and accurate. 

Boolean Operator Why It's Used Example What You'll Find
OR To search for similar concepts  geriatric OR elderly

Results will include either the word geriatric OR elderly

This broadens the search. 


To relate two different concepts together

stroke AND caregiving

Results will include both words stroke AND caregiving.

This narrows the search. 

NOT To exclude results from a search  dementia NOT Alzheimer's

Results will include the word dementia and exclude any results with the word Alzheimer's.

This narrows the search.

(Use NOT sparingly and judiciously as it may exclude some potentially relevant results)