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Postgraduate Nursing: Searching for the Evidence

formerly Master of Nursing

The search strategy

Once you have your clinical question worked out (Step 1 in the EBP process), you need to Acquire the evidence, which is the next step. Try to be methodical as you do this and you'll find you retrieve much more relevant search results. Before you start looking, work out a Search Strategy. This may change as you go on, but it's good to begin with a plan!

Steps in a Search Strategy

  1. Decide where to search. The Databases section of this guide gives you some good ideas for where to find quality, relevant evidence to support Nursing. Depending on the level of your research you will probably need to check at least two databases.
  2. Identify the main concepts you want to search for. This is easy once you've used a search framework such as PICO. Your concepts will often be the population and the intervention in that case.
  3. Brainstorm keywords and phrases for each concept that you will use when searching. As you search, add Subject Headings to this list. 
  4. Work out how to combine your terms with search operators:  OR for synonyms within each concept, AND to combine different concepts (check Search Tips in this guide).

For example, using the scenario described earlier:

Framework element Concept Possible search terms
P (Population) People living in aged care facilities Aged OR elderly OR frail OR 
I (Intervention) Cranberry juice Cranberr* OR Vaccinium
C (Comparison) no cranberry juice  
O (Outcome) Urinary tract infection prevention "Urinary tract infection*" OR UTI

Thus, your basic search will be something like this:

(Aged OR elderly OR frail) AND (Cranberr* OR Vaccinium) AND ("Urinary tract infection" OR UTI)

For more information about search strategies, head to the Evidence-Based Practice guide again, or to the Systematic Review Guide - Develop your search strategy.

Databases containing evidence based resources

Some databases focus on specifically indexing secondary, pre-appraised research. This is very handy if you want to know what the overall picture is when all the evidence is appraised and combined in a meta-analysis or systematic review.  Here are  a couple of examples in health:

  • Cochrane -  "an international network of people helping healthcare providers, policy makers, patients, their advocates and carers, make well-informed decisions about human health care by preparing, updating and promoting the accessibility of Cochrane Reviews".

The Cochrane Library is available from the Cochrane Collaboration website but also through CSU library.

  • UpToDate - a continuously updated source of evidence on several medical specialties and conditions. Easy to use and highly regarded.
  • OVID EBM Reviews - The Ovid databases include no fewer than 9 EBM (Evidence Based Medicine) Reviews databases. In general, these match the databases provided in the Cochrane Library, except for one. The odd one out is EBM Reviews - ACP Journal Club, which is a non-Cochrane Library database.

All these resources be accessed from the A-Z Journal Databases page. For information on other databases you might find helpful please see Where to Search for Evidence in the Evidence-Based Practice Guide.

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