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Searching the Literature

Looking at the published literature is a key step in performing good research. It will help formulating your Burning Question.


Useful databases for searching literature related to nursing topics.  


Literature pertaining to nursing and other allied health professions.


Comprehensive database of biomedical literature.

Cochrane Library

Systematic reviews of randomized control trials. These systematic reviews are often considered the highest level of evidence.

Medical Library

Contact the Medical Library for assistance. 336-832-7496

Why Not Only Rely on Google or Other Resources on the Internet?

Although Google, Google Scholar, and other Web sites or resources on the Internet might seem easier and at your fingertips, they are not the best sources for finding comprehensive evidence to guide clinical practice. Sources on the Internet may not be appropriately referenced or scientific; in addition, the author may not be the most reputable.1,2 Anyone can add to Wikipedia or create a Web site. Hence, although they are accessible 24 hours a day/7 days a week and somewhat easier to use, they should only be used after careful evaluation and only be one of the sources that are used for a good comprehensive search of the health care literature.11,12 It is also important to remember that unless the site is regularly updated (daily is best), the information on a Web site can easily become outdated. In addition, because of the way the World Wide Web is financed, the results that come up first in a search can be related to the advertising and not the most important to your search. If you are going to use materials from the Web, it is important to evaluate them appropriately. Find out who wrote the information. Are they an appropriate expert in the field of interest? Are there disclosures on the Web site? Do they tell you their affiliations or reveal their conflicts of interest? The Web is often a source of merchandize, so it is important to understand the purpose of the materials on a Web site that you use for your search. Do they tell you how current the research they report is? Knowing the answers to these questions will be helpful in understanding how much you will want to rely on these materials as being unbiased and useful in your search or not. 1,2

Table and Excerpt from Jacqueline M. McGrath, Roy E. Brown, Haifa A. Samra, Before You Search the Literature: How to Prepare and Get the Most Out of Citation Databases, Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, Volume 12, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 162-170.

Suggestions for improving your search strategy

  • Keep concepts separate – this will make it easier to manipulate your search to get desired results.
  • Always come up with synonyms for your search terms/concepts.
  • Use Subject Headings/Controlled Vocabulary whenever possible.
  • Never hesitate to adjust your search strategy once you evaluate your results
  • Start your search broad and then make it more focused as you see what is in the literature.

Finding Too Many Articles? Ways to Decrease/Focus Your Results

  • Do not explode
  • Restrict subject heading to major focus
  • Choose any relevant subheadings
  • Utilize limits to English language, human subjects, review articles, etc.

Not Finding Enough? Ways to Expand/Increase Your Results

  • Explode whenever possible
  • Do not restrict subject headings to major focus
  • Do not choose subheadings
  • Consider searching back in time, look at citations
  • Consider doing a keyword search-particularly for more obscure terms

Boolean Operators

(Pressure Ulcer AND Nursing Home) Retrieves records that contain BOTH terms entered.

Boolean AND

(Pressure Ulcer OR Nursing Home)  Retrieves records that contain either ENTERED term.

Boolean OR

(Pressure Ulcer NOT Nursing Home)  Retrieves records that exclude the term following the operator.

Boolean NOT


All databases (like the ones provided by the Medical Library)have options for narrowing search results even further by allowing you to apply limits or filters. Consider additional aspects about the information you’re searching for and then be on the lookout for ways to apply them during your searching.

  • Gender: Male | Female
  • Species: Humans | Animals
  • Years: Last 5 Years |A Specific Date Range
  • Languages: English Only | Other Languages: _______
  • Age Groups: (may differ by database)
    • All Ages
    • Newborn ( < 1 month)
    • Infant (1 - 23 months)
    • Child (6 - 12 yrs.)
    • Adolescent (13—18 yrs.)
    • Adult (19 - 44 yrs.)
    • Elderly (65 - 79 yrs.)
    • Aged ( > 80 yrs.

© 2021. Cone Health. All rights reserved. This content may not be reproduced, distributed, or displayed without the prior express written permission of Cone Health. For permission to use, contact the Office of Nursing Research.

[Home] Working w/ Literature | [1] Searching the Literature | [2] Types of Studies & Levels of Evidence | [3] Reviewing an Article | [4] Grading the Quality of an Article | [5] Synthesizing the Literature

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