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Nursing: Searching with PICO

Steps to Searching

  1. Create a well defined question (PICO).
  2. Brainstorm alternate words and concepts.
  3. Construct your search strategy.
  4. Select databases (see Articles).
  5. Tailor your search to the database.
  6. Use a reference manager to organize findings, like Zotero or Mendeley.

Other Search Tips

  • Most databases provide basic and advanced search modes. Advanced searching allows you to utilize more limiters to focus your search.


  • Use limiters to help focus your search to specific populations, types of studies, and more.


  • Don't expect to find the "golden ticket" resource! Research is a process of synthesizing results from various search processes.

Constructing a Search

Use Boolean operators to join your search terms. Here's how they work.
AND limits results and returns terms joined with AND  falls AND long term care
OR expands results, returns either word, use with synonymous terms. best used in conjunction with an AND search sensory processing AND teenagers OR  adolescents 
NOT excludes terms from search dolphins NOT Miami


Keywords vs Subject Terms

While thinking of related terms and concepts is useful in searching, some databases, like CINAHL and MEDLINE, also utilize subject headings.  Knowing the difference between them and when to use a keyword vs. a subject heading can have an impact on your search results.

Subject Headings
Looks for word occurrence in multiple locations of results Only searches the subject headings field of results
Is a broader search and will yield more results, not all of them relevant Is more precise, and yields less, although more relevant results
You can "make up" a keyword Subject headings are chosen from a preexisting list and cannot be altered


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