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Anesthesia For Nurses

Step by Step

Building the Search Strategy and Criteria

The Search Strategy and Criteria depends on the:

  1. Purpose: Why are you conducting a Literature Search?
  2. Goal or outcome of the search: What do you want to gain from the search?

Once you decide on the purpose and goals of the search, then you can develop your search strategy. Some of the steps below in the checklist will not be used depending on the Purpose and Goal of the search.

Literature Search Steps

  1. Define your Clinical Problem or Research Question using PICO-TT
  2. Create a search strategy and criteria
    1. Key Points to a Search Strategy
      1. Define what the articles/references should be about (inclusion criteria)
      2. Brainstorm and List all relevant words and synonyms (words to use in the search)
      3. Organize how the words will be entered in to each database (ANDs /ORs: combinations)
  3. Select the right resource(s) (Which databases are you going to search?)
    1. Conduct the Search: plug in to the search area the organized words or phrases- 1 set at a time until you are familiar with the breath and depth of the literature.
    2. Review results and possibly edit combinations or terms

NOTE: Race/Ethnicity, Types of Qualitative Studies, and Reviews NEEDS to be included in the search as appropriate in all major databases.

  1. Select suitable references from those that have been retrieved (Save to folders/collections/lists in the database
  2.   Assess whether the search was satisfactory
  3. Redesign search strategy, choice of databases, etc
  4. Repeat steps 1-7 as needed

Checklist for Developing a Search Strategy


Key Point

Definitions, Questions, and Tips



Purpose and Goal

Define what the articles will be about; Construct the question or topic to be searched.



Brainstorm terms and synonyms; Keep in mind the various spellings

Define text words; Determine synonyms for the text words


Control for different spellings or using appropriate truncations


Consider brand names when searching for a specific drug treatment


Does the terminology exist in the database (Some databases have larger vocabularies)



Perform test searches in multiple databases

Decide on whether to perform an “exploded” or a “focused” search ( THINK sensitive or specific based on your purpose)



Type of Search: Basic, Advanced, or Clinical

Identify “controlled vocabulary” or keywords (natural language) used for the indexing of databases (MeSH for MEDLINE, EMTREE for EMBASE) for keywords; if available


Combine logically all search terms using Boolean Logic/ Operators (AND, OR, NOT) depending on database, some operators are not available

  • Combine similar terms with OR
  • Combine all different terms or term strings with AND

Only use NOT if you are sure not to include a term




How did the terms combine in the database?



Perform the Searches

Evaluate Results of the search; Are you getting quality articles with in the first 2 pages?




Customize the syntax of your search strategy to the specific databases


Developing Answerable Questions

PICO is a good framework to help clarify your (clinical, review, or research) question.

P -  Patient, Population or Problem: What are the important characteristics of the patients &/or problem?

I -  Intervention:  What you plan to do for the patient or problem?

C - Comparison: What, if anything, is the alternative to the intervention?

O - Outcome:  What is the outcome that you would like to measure?


Beyond PICO: the SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence synthesis.

5-SPICE: the application of an original framework for community health worker program design, quality improvement and research agenda setting.

Key Word Vs Index Term

Both types of search terms are useful & both should be used in your search.

Keywords help to broaden your results.  They will be searched for at least in journal titles, author names, article titles, & article abstracts.  They can also be tagged to search all text.

Index/subject terms help to focus your search appropriately, looking for items that have had a specific term applied by an indexer.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators let you combine search terms in specific ways to broaden or narrow your results.

Why Create a Sensitive Search?

In many literature reviews, you try to balance the sensitivity of the search (how many potentially relevant articles you find) & specificity (how many definitely relevant articles you find), realizing that you will miss some.  In a systematic review, you want a very sensitive search:  you are trying to find any potentially relevant article.  A systematic review search will:

  • contain many synonyms & variants of search terms
  • use care in adding search filters
  • search multiple resources, databases & grey literature, such as reports & clinical trials