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NURSING 213: Foundations of Nursing Practice

Selected information resources for this class. Friendly URL:

Searching like a pro - Pro tip #1

In Google you can type in, "What's the weather like in New York City this weekend?" and receive the answer. In library databases, you need to boil down your inquiry to the nouns and noun phrases that capture your concepts, like New York City AND weekend AND weather 

For example, if your topic is, "what is the long-term effect of poor care on nursing home residents?", you would not type in that ENTIRE question into a library database such as CINAHL. Really, you want to type in only the 'meat' of your sandwich:  ​nursing homes AND patient care AND elderly

Once you have the meat, you can then start to put together a search strategy as shown below. Consider using synonyms when searching. If you're researching pet therapy, you may want to search for dogs as well as canines; or you may want to go broader with your terms and use 'animal-assisted therapy' also. Make sure you get ALL the relevant possibilities for your research. The following pro tips will help you do this.

Using 'AND, OR, NOT'

These three words (also known as 'Boolean operators') -- AND, OR, NOT -- perform a special function in library databases when used in a search statement and will help you either broaden your search results or narrow the results, depending on what you need. This graphic shows how they work:

​To sum up --

  • AND - looks for ALL the terms in your search, in any order. It is the default for most databases and search engines like Google. If you don't type AND in between your terms, the database will automatically do it.
  • OR - looks for ANY of the terms in your search. It is used to group synonyms together. Normally when you have a single search box, you  put the synonyms within parentheses, e.g. (adolescents OR teenagers OR youth). If you have multiple search lines, you can put the synonymous terms altogether on one line.
  • NOT - will exclude certain terms, and is normally used at the end of a search statement. For example, pharmaceuticals NOT illegal. ​Use this operator with care, because it may exclude some relevant sources.

Using the Boolean operators AND and OR from the previous nursing example, my search might look something like this:

Nursing Home AND (Patient Care OR Long-term Care) AND (Elderly OR Aged OR Geriatric):


Pro tip #2

Using Database Filters Effectively​

Another way to make your search results more relevant is to apply database filters on the results page. For example, the CINAHL database (in EBSCOhost) has filters for age, inpatient or outpatient, male or female, and so on, that can be applied to your results. These filters are viewable in the EBSCO databases by clicking on the link to Show More, under the date slider bar:

You'll usually select Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals and English Language:

You can use limiters to replace some search terms. For example, rather than type in all the search terms for ​Elderly​, you can apply the Age Groups limiter to your search results:

You can always see what terms you've used and what limiters have been applied under ​Current Search. And you can always remove them if you find them too restricing:

Pro tip #3

At some point, you will be asked to write on or explore a topic that is more in-depth and thus will require a more comprehensive search. This can be a big task. Where do you begin?

  1. Use a chart like the one below to keep your thoughts organized. On the left write your original concepts
  2. In the second column, enter any thesaurus/subject headings that the database uses for your concept. PubMed and CINAHL both have thesaurii you can search for your terms; for example, PubMed has a thesaurus called MeSH. Do this to understand how your term will be interpreted and if you agree. In the case of patient care, you may choose to include long-term care or nursing care depending on what you want.
  3. Use the last column to keep track of other synonyms by which your concept could be referred to in the literature. For example, when searching for the Elderly concept, some authors may have used the term Senior Citizen or Senior because it made more sense for their context. You may want to include these other words using OR in your search.

Summing up

Searching for articles is not always easy, but there are tricks that will help you navigate and find more relevant materials to your needs.

  1. Boolean Searching (AND/OR/NOT)
  2. Filters when Searching (usually on the left-hand side of your search results)
  3. Subject Headings (can limit by that field or can use the database thesaurus, like MeSH (Medical Subject Headings in PubMed).

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