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School of Dentistry: Evidence-Based Practice: Searching the Evidence

Major Steps in a Search

  1. Create a well-defined question [PICO]
  2. Brainstorm and gather synonyms
  3. Construct the search strategy
  4. Select database(s)
  5. Tailor search strategy to database(s)
  6. Save search & export results to reference manager [see Research Tools]

Gather Synonyms

Think broadly and abstractly!

  • Terms with the same meaning
    • Hypertension/High blood pressure
  • Terms with alternate spellings
    • Leukemia/Leukaemia
  • Complex concepts described inconsistently
    • Long-term, patient-reported satisfaction…/Patients’ experiences with…
  • Umbrella terms and specific names
    • Sexually transmitted disease/genital warts, syphilis
  • Keywords and database-specific subject terms
    • Cancer, tumor/Neoplasm (MeSH)

Construct Search Strategies

Construct search by combining concepts with Boolean operators. Use keywords and subject terms in combination.

Boolean Logic Operators


  Limits results, both    concepts

   Stoma AND Bowel        cancer


  More results, either  concept

  Stoma OR Colostomy


  Cuts out specific results

   JAVA NOT coffee

Tailor Search Strategy to the Database

Tailor Search Strategy to the Database

  • Understand different vendor interfaces (Ebsco publishes CINAHL and PsycINFO, Elsevier publishes Scopus)
  • Differentiate between keywords and subject headings (PubMed uses MeSH, Scopus only uses keywords)
  • Different databases, different subject headings
  • Know if the content is peer-reviewed (Medline = all peer-reviewed, CINAHL and PubMed include non-peer-reviewed material)

Liaison Librarian to the School of Dentistry


Christy Tyson