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NU 708: Evidence-Based Practice & Quality Improvement: Database Search Tips

Guide to resources of use to students in NU 708

Tips for finding Evidence-Based Practice Information in CINAHL Complete

The database opens in the Advanced Search screen. Scroll down to Limit Your Results. You can select options (click to check boxes) including:

  • Research Articles
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Evidence-based Practice

Clicking the checkbox for the search option Evidence-Based Practice searches the Special Interest field for the value "Evidence-Based Practice."  Applying this limiter allows you to limit results to:

  • Articles from evidence-based practice journals
  • Articles about evidence-based practice
  • Research articles (including systematic reviews, clinical trials, meta analyses, etc.)
  • Commentaries on research studies (applying practice to research)

Further down on the left, under the Special Interest menu, is " Evidence-Based Practice." With your options set, type your search term(s) in the Find boxes and click on the Search button. (You probably will not want to try them all together-you may need to experiment with one or the other.)
Find “Publication Type,” use the pull-down menu and find Systematic Review, Case Study, or Clinical Trial.  Click on one of them at a time. (Both methods can be used together, but you may not receive as many hits as when you use them on separate searches.)

Tips for Finding Evidence-Based Practice information in Other Databases

Cochrane Library
At the default search screen, enter your search term(s) The more search terms you connect with AND, the fewer results you should get, as the search is narrowed. This is true for most databases.

Ovid Nursing Full Text Plus
Opens to the Advanced Search page by default.  Under Limits, on the right side, under Point of Care, select Evidence-Based Healthcare, then type in your search term(s).

Nursing and Allied Health Source
Click on the tab for Advanced Search. Look for Search Options underneath the search boxes. Scroll down to Document Type and select the checkbox for Evidence-Based Healthcare

From the Library's databases, under Title Listing, select PubMed (Medline). Use the NLM search, which contains links to available articles. (Not all are available from JSU. You will still have to check the catalog for journal access at times.)  In the center of the page, under the heading PubMed Tools, click on Clinical Queries.  Type in your search terms, connected by AND, to narrow the search. Results are displayed in three columns. Or type your search terms in the box at the top of page, click Search, then narrow the search by selecting filter(s), such as Systematic Reviews, on the left sidebar under Article Types.

Tips for Searching

Searching for Evidence

Houston Cole Library provides access to several online databases useful for finding evidence-based literature.  PubMed and CINAHL are premier databases for nursing. The Cochrane Library and Joanna Briggs Institute provide access to systematic reviews, the highest level of evidence. NGC offers summaries of EBP clinical practice guidelines.

Database Search Tips and Techniques

  • Limit Your Search to Academic or Scholarly Journals. Many databases offer an option to limit your search by selecting an option such as “peer-reviewed” or “scholarly”
  • Boolean Search: Use connectors AND, OR, NOT. AND narrows your search, and OR broadens a search, NOT excludes unwanted terms. (Use Advanced Search in most databases for Boolean search.) For example:
    • Cats AND Dogs;
    • Cats OR Dogs;
    • Cats NOT Dogs.
  • Parentheses: Use to group words together as a phrase in Boolean searches. i.e.  (stem cell) AND mouse
  • Truncation: Common symbol is * (asterisk.) Use to search for variations in word endings, i.e. nurs* will find nurse, nurses, nursing.
  • Set limiters for publication dates, population, source type, etc.
  • You may need to revise your search terms if:
    • Your search results are not relevant
    • You get too many results
    • Apply limits such as age ranges or publication dates to help narrow searches
  • If you get too few results, there may not be enough published evidence on your clinical question

Tips for PICO Searching

  • Start out with a broad search, using your P and I terms. (For example, Population=Older adults, Intervention=Tai Chi)
    •  Combine them using AND. Include the O if you get a large number of results. The reason is that outcomes tend to be very specific and if you don’t use the exact wording that the researcher did, you could miss something.
    • Use AND to combine the P results set with the I results set. In the following example from CINAHL Plus with Full Text, search on older adults AND Tai Chi. Look for the C and O in the results from that search, or add the O (fall* prevention) if you get a lot of hits.
    • Find some relevant studies among your results, and examine the reference sections to find subject headings and keywords in the paper’s text and abstract that you can use as search terms.
  • Look for terms such as Related Articles or  Find Similar to find other documents
  • Look for keywords used in a document’s beginning or its abstract. For example:

PICO searching tips adapted from Florida Gulf Coast University PICO/EBP LibGuide,
and University of Wyoming Libraries PICOT Tutorial LibGuide,

Controlled Vocabulary, Thesaurus, (or the way terms are indexed in the database)

For more information on CINAHL Subject Headings, see

For more on searching PubMed using MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), see PubMed 10 Tips, from UNC Health Sciences Library. Tip 7 is Using PubMed


Health and Sciences Librarian

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Paula Barnett-Ellis
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