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Undergraduate Research Opportunities - REX Program

Search strategy process

Beck, Charlotte, Bryant, Lee Ann, Warnock, Fay, & Zagar, Suzan. 2014. The systematic search process. [Image] Retrieved from [].

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Search strategy process STEPS

Critically reflect on your own practice or practice on the clinical unit. Ask if there are aspects or forms of practice that can be improved or where scientifically derived knowledge from nursing, other health sciences, ethics or social sciences should be considered for improving care decision making and or patient health outcomes and wellbeing. Identify a clinical problem or aim from your critical reflection.
Revise the clinical problem so that it incorporates PICO elements. It often helps to describe the population (P) of interest first in the statement and to place the Intervention (I – independent variable) before the Outcome (O- dependent variable).

Main concepts refer to terms that are important to the description of your main topic of interest or key terms that you would consider including in a title, abstract, subject heading. Could also include keywords, synonyms and related terms. 

Consider making use of subject terms specific to the database (eg., MeSH – PubMed), truncation, boolean logic (AND, OR)). Also consider making use of limit setting functions to focus your search (eg., year, population, type of study…). 

Remain flexible and be prepared to revise your PICO question in response to what you end up finding (eg., you had to change your population because no studies conducted on  population that you had originally specified in the question).

Build search strategy for the database you select. Consider that some databases are more suited to locating specific kinds/types of studies (eg., individual studies (RCT, prognostic, diagnostic, descriptive) systematic reviews, literature synthesis, decision tools and practice guidelines).

Repeat your search systematically or modify for each database selected.

Keep your PICO question in mind and refer to it frequently so that you remain focused and do not get distracted when doing your search. Keep a record of each of your searches.

It often helps to enter single terms and to combine them using “AND” or “OR” instead of entering several terms simultaneously.
Examine the results and make use of criteria to decide on keeping or discarding studies. Ask - do the studies pertain to all PICO elements – do they answer your question and are the types or designs of the studies reflective of your question? Are the studies current, what is the level of evidence?
Your search is iterative – stay focused but be prepared to modify (limit/refine, expand) your search terms in response to you are finding.