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Evidence Based Nursing Practice: Searching the Literature

A variety of library resources on evidence-based nursing practice. Includes the levels of evidence, tips for searching the literature, and links to the AJN series on EBP.

Tips for searching

Best practices for effectively searching journal databases like CINAHL & PubMed:

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. CINAHL uses CINAHL Headings; PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings [MeSH].

3. Search each of your different concepts/subject headings individually.

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

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

6. Search more than 1 database for best results.

Remember that searching for specific information can be a very complex process - the library is here to help you!

Asking a Librarian for a search

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 book 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.

What to include in your literature search request - to help the librarian better understand your request:

-Be as specific as possible when you describe your topic.

-Share various terms [including synonyms] that describe what you are needing.

-Indicate the following:

  • How will you be using this information? - for a: clinical project, presentation at work, research at work, publication, school paper.
  • What kind of information do you need? - journal articles, books, web resources, newspaper articles, other?
  • What kind of articles do you need? - articles from nursing journals only, nursing and medical, any & all journals
  • Are you needing certain types of articles? - research articles, articles from peer-reviewed journals, systematic reviews, other?
  • How far back in time do you want to go? - resources from the last 5 years, 10 years, doesn't matter?
  • Are you needing information for a specific group of patients? - examples: pediatric patients, neonates, geriatrics, inpatients, outpatients.
  • Are you willing to accept related articles on your topic or are you just wanting articles that are specifically on the topic? - please be aware that, often times, there aren't articles on a specific topic so you may need to broaden  or re-think your search topic.