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Physical Therapy: Searching the Literature: Construct a search strategy

A guide to literature searching.

Steps for Acquiring Evidence

  1. Identify a clinical problem
  2. Create a well-defined research question [using PICO]
  3. Translate PICO into a search strategy
    • Brainstorm and gather synonyms
    • Construct the search strategy
  4. Select most likely resources (databases)
  5. Tailor search strategy to database(s)
  6. Save search & export results to reference manager

Visual Queue for AND OR NOT Boolean Operators

Image from https://www.quora.com/What-makes-Boolean-Algebra-different-than-Binary-Code

Understand MeSH

  Direct Link to NCBI: PubMed video tutorial on searching with MeSH

  Direct Link to National Institutes of Health interactive tutorial on MeSH

Link to NCBI: PubMed text tutorial: What is MeSH? 

More information about MeSH

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