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NURS 7301 - Methods for Evidence Based Practice: Know Your Database

Searching is Literal

Database searching tends to be literal, that is by the letter or verbatim. Most databases do not offer the flexibility of a search engine, like Google. Spelling counts. This page offers tools for increased flexibility in constructing your search.

Proximity Searching

Proximity searching looks for two or more words within a specified distance of one another within the citation. This is especially useful when you're looking for terms that are:

  • Newer in the published literature
  • Not well-defined in the database through subject headings
  • changeable in the structure of a sentence.

Try using proximity searching to find terms like "gamification of education" so that your search can capture many permutations of the concept:

  • education gamification
  • gamification of education
  • education continues toward gamification in the classroom

Proximity implies a relationship between two words that creates a searchable concept relevant to your question.

Many databases structure proximity searching as follows:

gamification W/5 education (this will look for the word "gamification" within five words of "education)

Be sure to check the help section of your database to see how it reads proximity.


A wildcard is a character that can be used in a search term to represent one or more other characters. This is useful for variable spellings, especially when looking in European literature.


  • hyperglyc?emia -- will return hyperglycemia or hyperglycaemia
  • colo?r -- will return color or colour

Most databases use a question mark (?) or a dollar sign ($) for their wildcard markers, but be sure to check the help section of your database to be sure. Some databases automatically search for variant spellings of some terms, so you may not always need to force the search with a wildcard.

Truncation Markers

Truncation allows users to search for all terms that begin with a given string of text. This is useful when you want to look:

  • Very broadly
  • For terms with multiple endings that may apply to your search

Consider these two examples:

  • Nurs* -- looks for nurse, nursing, nurses, nursed, etc.
  • Educat* -- looks for educate, educators, education, educated, educating, etc.

Be aware that this is a text-based search. It is only looking at text strings, not at meaning. You may mean to pull in results about RNs, but will also pull in results related to nursing infants.

Occasionally, this will be an appropriate search; especially if you are working with a small pool of available literature. For example, nurs* is a very broad search; but when paired with a very specific term, like HCAHPS, the results are very limited.

Most databases use an asterisk (*) as the trigger for truncation searching, but be sure to check the help section of your database to see how it handles truncation. It is not recommended for all databases.

Exact Search String

Most databases use quotation marks around text to force a search string.


  • "health science center"  - will look for exactly those words in exactly that order
  • health science center - will look for any of those words in any order

Some databases offer fuzzy and exact match options using different markers. Some will use brackets to indicate an exact match {health science center}. Be sure to check the help section of your database to see how it handles exact term searching.

Note: PubMed does not allow exact search strings, unless it has previously indexed the term.

Tip Sheets

See the links below for tips on searching your favorite database: