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Effective Database Searching: Home

This guide to key library databases helps you decide which databases to use and assists you in searching them more effectively.

Helpful Information

Check out JAMAevidence

JAMAevidence provides online access to EBP textbooks and other useful resources including calculators and critical appraisal forms. Includes the Users' Guides to the Medical Literature.

Effective Database Searching

Not sure which database to use?  Start with the Site Map.  Then select the blue tab which best fits your research subject area and follow the best practices below.

Best practices for effectively searching journal databases:

1. Identify your topic's key concepts and related terms. Convert your topic/clinical question into the PICO format if doing an evidence-based practice search. PICO stands for Population (or Patient), Intervention, Comparison, Outcome.

2. Select subject terms (using a database's controlled vocabulary/thesaurus) if this is an option.

3. Search each concept/subject term individually.

4. Combine multiple search terms using Boolean operators (AND, OR).

5. Use limits such as dates, language, publication type, population group, etc. to reduce or refine search results.

6. Search more than 1 database.


Contact a Librarian to assist with your search if:

-you are basing a clinical decision on what you do or don’t find in your information search

-your results are questionable or it takes you more than 20 minutes to find information on your topic

-you are writing an article or a chapter

-you are working on a grant proposal

-you are working on an evidence-based practice project or a systematic review

-you need a thorough, exhaustive literature search performed

Remember that searching for specific information can be a very complex process.



Portions of the content of this Guide are used with permission from the Responsible Literature Searching project developed by the Health Sciences Library System, University of Pittsburgh & modified by the Robert B. Greenblatt, M.D. Library, Medical College of Georgia.



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PICO Framework


Format a well-focused clinical question using the elements of the PICO framework to facilitate creating an effective search strategy1:

P = Patient, Population or Problem

I = Intervention or Exposure

C = Comparison or Control (if applicable)

O = Outcome(s)

Example of a therapy-type question: In patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, is physical therapy more effective than medication in relieving pain?

1. Schardt, C., Adams, M. B., Owens, T., Keitz, S., & Fontelo, P. (2007). Utilization of the PICO framework to improve searching PubMed for clinical questions. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 7, 16. doi: