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HSC 480: Health Sciences Capstone

Search Strategy Tracker

Using the PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) method, formulate a research question that identifies what you will aim to know about the topic.

My question:  For adults with chronic illnesses, is the Mediterranean diet a good approach to improving their health?


For your literature review, you will need to "describe your search process and criteria" including:

- which database(s) you used
- which keywords and controlled vocabulary you used
- How many articles did each database yield
- how did you narrow down and select your sources 


Plan in advance where you will keep track of your search terms and your search strategies.

Feel free to use this Search Strategy Tracker template

You should make a COPY of the document and save it to your own Google Drive for editing. 

Subjects and MeSH Terms

Keyword searching is the most flexible type of online search - keyword searches usually look multiple places for your search terms, for example in the article title, the article abstract, and in subjects assigned to the articles.

A much more focused and specific kind of searching is called Subject searching. Most items in databases have a "Subject Heading" field that can be searched for specific terms. In the PubMed database, subject headings are called "MeSH Terms."

  • Subject headings are what librarians call controlled vocabulary.
  • Controlled vocabulary means that only certain terms are used to describe a particular concept.
  • This ensures that all the articles about that concept will be found when you search for that particular subject heading.
  • Each item in a database, someone has looked at and has tagged that article with the appropriate subject headings.

It's a good idea to try and determine what are the best Subject headings - or MeSH Terms - that describe your concept so you can use them in your searches. 

These two videos show how to do this in the PubMed and CINAHL databases: 

Your Research Question - Creating Search Statements

After formulating your research question, identify the main concepts in your question, then use those concepts to create search statements using words and phrases. 

Use Boolean search operators to build effective and efficient search statements:

  • The AND connector tells the database that both or all terms must be included in each of the items retrieved.
    • AND is used to focus or narrow your search and usually reduces the number of records retrieved.
  • The OR connector tells the database that any or all of the terms must be included in the records retrieved.
    • OR is used to search for synonyms or interchangeable terms, and usually increases the number of records retrieved.
    • When connecting terms using OR, put those terms within parentheses
    • The database processes the request inside the parentheses first
    • Connect the resulting sets by inserting AND between the OR searches

For example:

"public health" AND statistics AND privacy

"smoking cessation" AND (pregnancy OR pregnant)

("postoperative pain" OR post-surgical pain OR post-surgery pain) AND ("classical music" OR "instrumental music")

  • Search Tip! If you are searching for a two or more word phrase, put the words in "quotation marks." This tells the search tool to look for these words together, as a phrase in that specific order. 

Watch this video which explains how to use the Boolean operators AND and OR: