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NURS 3500 Research Methods: Research Strategies

Research strategies and sources for the course literature search assignment.


Databases usually allow you to limit or filter your search results in various ways. These may include:

  • language
  • type of publication (case study, clinical trials, review articles)
  • sex
  • age groups
  • date published
  • peer-reviewed

Evaluating Health Websites

Part of conducting research includes evaluation, whether it is an article, book, or a website.   Since anyone can publish anything online, it is especially crucial in the medical fields to review the site carefully before using it in research or practice.  

Strategies for Evaluating Health Websites

Boolean Operators

Boolean logic is a system that allows a searcher to set relationships between keywords or concepts when searching. The most commonly used Boolean commands are AND, OR, and NOT. Parentheses can be used to specify the relationship further. Using these operators can make your searches more precise and save time.

Tells the database that you only want articles that contain ALL of the search terms

smoking AND nicotine

Tells the database that you want all articles that contain EITHER of the terms

smoking OR nicotine

Tells the database that you do not want any articles that contain a certain term

smoking NOT nicotine

Tells the database that you want articles with EITHER of two terms AND another

(smoking OR nicotine) AND cancer


Research Tips

Brainstorm possible search terms for your topic. Keep in mind that you may need to simplify long phrases by breaking them up into separate search terms or smaller phrases.  Here is a visual dictionary to help you brainstorm synonyms and related terms.

ANDs and ORs and NOTs. You will need to combine your search terms with connecting terms (called "Boolean operators"), such as AND and OR. Use AND between terms to narrow a search and OR between terms to broaden a search. See the box on the left to learn more about how to use Boolean operators.

Do preliminary searches before settling on a topic. Don't assume there will be a lot of information on your topic. Do a few searches before committing to a topic. You may find that you need to narrow or broaden your topic.

Read through background information: Taking a few minutes to read about your topic in a specialized encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook may be one of the most effective and time saving research tips on this list. You will probably refine and refocus your topic several times before you finalize it.  Some specialized reference sources, located on the second floor of Library North, are listed under the Books tab above.  These books are good places to start your research when you know little about a topic, when you need an overview of a subject, or when you want a quick summary of basic ideas. They are also useful for discovering the names of important people, and can familiarize you with the vocabulary of the field. Encyclopedia articles are often followed by carefully selected bibliographies or lists of references to other works, useful items to have as you begin looking for additional information.

Focus on scholarly sources. For most research assignments, you will want to use primarily scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Such articles are typically not freely available on the Web and cannot be found by searching Internet search engines like Google or Yahoo. See the Articles tab above to find more information about identifying scholarly articles.

Books vs. articles. Books (including reference books) may be helpful for background information and for familiarizing yourself with a topic. Articles, on the other hand, are more current and typically address a very narrow piece of a topic, such as details of a specific study. The scope of your assignment will determine what types of sources are best. Many class projects will involve identifying primary empirical research, which is available primarily through articles.

Keep a log of your search process. It's often helpful to know what sources you've consulted and whether they were helpful. Keeping a search log is an easy way document what sources and search terms "work" and which ones do not. 

Cite as you go. Even if you're not sure whether you will use a source, it's much easier to note the citation information up front than to decide you need it later!  Carefully citing will also allow you to avoid plagiarism.  See this interactive tutorial to learn the basics of paraphrasing and citing appropriately.  More information about citing in APA format can be found through the Articles tab above.

Advanced Search Techniques

Most databases use the symbol * or # for truncation or wildcard symbols. Use the database's Help tab for verification of the correct symbol.

Truncation Symbol:  Uses root of the word…

Example:  pharm*

Finds pharmacology, pharmacy, pharmaceutical, etc.

Wildcard Symbol:  Allows for multiple spellings of a word...

Example: sul*ur

Finds sulphur and sulfur

Exact Phrase: Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase.

Example:  "persian cat"

Finds information on cats that are the Persian breed, not just cats in relation to anything Persian.

Proximity operators:  Proximity (or adjacency) operators allow you to search by phrase or with two or more words in relation to one another. Use the database's Help tab for to verify what symbol to use.

Near (n): if it does not matter which word appears first.

Example: Prozac n3 adverse effects

Finds Prozac within three words of adverse effects

With (w): if your terms must be in the same order in which they are entered.

Example: physical w1 therapy

Finds records where the word physical is listed first, followed by the word therapy, and where no more than one word separates the two terms.

Stop words:  Stop words are very common words that are automatically ignored by most databases.

Examples:  and, if, or, the, a, for, to, an, as, by

Use quotation marks if you need to search for a term that has a stop word in it, such as "Out of Africa" or "The Who".

Health Professions Librarian

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Joel Glogowski