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Step 3: Search for Evidence


Identify the Right Sources

The first thing you need to do is decide where to look for the information you need. Different sites provide different types of information.  If you want to know about Beyonce's latest tour dates, you might use Google; if you want the hours for a local business, you might use Yelp!  


To find research evidence, you need to go to websites that search databases of peer-reviewed journal.  The sites below are recommended.


Other recommended sources are:

Choose your Search Terms
The PICO Method

The PICO method is a good place to start when coming up with search terms.  

Your population (P) and intervention (I) make good search terms.



If you're not doing healthcare research, PICO won't work for you.  A general rule is to think of the most important words in your topic.  If you had to describe what you're looking for in 2-3 words, what would they be.


No Sentences!

You can always drop words such as 'does' 'if' 'when' 'among,' 'in'  'of, 'the,' etc.  These types of words are so common that the search engine usually ignores them.  Full sentences won't get you good results in journal research.  The goal is to come up keywords that can get you exactly what you're looking for.  



Searching for articles sounds intimidating, but it's actually pretty easy.  It's similar to searching google, except that google results show you all sorts of websites, while scholarly databases only show you carefully chosen research articles.


Start General

Start with a more general search.  You can always narrow your search to get more specific information.  Try using only 2 or 3 words to start.  Try just your population (P) and your intervention (I), or perhaps the diagnosis and the intervention.  For example, try the terms babies and PICCs, or the terms diabetes and diet change.



Refine your Results

Once you get some search results, you can start eliminating the irrelevant results using something called facets.  Facets are checkboxes you can click to eliminate stuff you don't want.

An image of facets on a search results page


Good rules of thumb are...

1. Decide if you want just peer-reviewed journals -

2. Change the publication date range - try only looking for articles from 2010-present, for instance

3. Limit to full-text - Search results allow you to find information on articles even if you don't have access to the articles themselves.  If you want, you can limit your search to only the articles you can read in full.  



If you're not finding what you need, go back to your search terms.  Brainstorm some synonyms (other words that mean the same thing) for your keywords.  The articles you're looking for might be out there, the authors might just be using different terminology.  

  • Are there terms that are more or less technical than what you're using?

    • babies => neonates

  • Are there terms that are similar that refer to the same topic?

    • children => pediatric

  • Can you get more specific or more general? 

    • high school students => adolescents, teens


Combining Terms

The specific words AND, OR, or NOT can be very useful.  They're called Boolean operators, and they have a special meaning with journal search engines that allows you to do a more complex search.

For instance, in the example above, some articles might use the word children, while other articles might use the word pediatric.  You can find both sets of articles by entering the search terms children OR pediatric (including the word OR).  This search will pull up any article that contains either "children" or "pediatric."

Sometimes a good way to narrow down results is to use the word NOT.  If, for instance, you're looking for articles on children 12 and under and you get a lot of results about teens, you can include NOT teens in your search.  You can even combine operators using parentheses, such as NOT (teens OR adolescents).