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Family Medicine Residency Resource Guide: 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

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:

AND limits results, both concepts stoma AND bowel cancer
OR more results, either concept stoma OR colostomy
NOT excludes concept(s) from 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, Medline is part of PubMed)
  • Differentiate between keywords and subject headings (PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), Scopus only uses keywords, CINAHL uses subject headings)
  • Different databases, different subject headings
  • Know if the content is peer-reviewed (Medline = all peer-reviewed, CINAHL and PubMed include non-peer-reviewed material)

Understand MeSH

  Direct Link to NCBI video tutorial on searching with MeSH

  Direct Link to National Institutes of Health interactive tutorial on MeSH

Visual Queue for AND OR NOT Boolean Operators

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Grey Lit Searching

OpenGrey:   open access system in Europe which contains grey literature bibliographical references produced in Europe
  • includes technical or research reports, doctoral dissertations, some conference papers, some official publications, and other types of grey literature
  • covers science, technology, biomedical science, economics, social science and humanities 

Grey Literature Report:   bimonthly publication of The New York Academy of Medicine produced between 1999-2016 (discontinued January 2017)

  • contains grey literature publications in health services research and selected urban health topics
  • cataloged and indexed using MeSH