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A Content Guide: Pre Search Steps

This is the content guide, do NOT publish. Here is where we will pull informational boxes from.

Pre Search Steps

  1. Pre Search Browsing
  2. Develop a Question
  3. Identify the Main Concepts in Your Research Question
  4. Add Related Terms or Synonyms
  5. Select Database and Enter Search Terms Search
  6. Focus Your Search by Applying Limits
  7. Scan your Search Results to Identify Additional Terms to Add to Your Search 
  8. Broaden Search

1. Pre Search Browsing

What are the issues related to your research topic?  What words and terms do professionals use when they write about this issue?

Browsing several sources before beginning your search can help your clarify the scope of your research question.  You will be much more efficient at finding good research articles when you have a clear idea of what you are looking for. 

Background information may be found in sources such as:

  • National Library of Medicine - check the Consumer Health Resources
  • reference books, such as medical encyclopedias and drug manuals
  • textbooks
  • websites - add HonCode as a search term to limit your search to authoritative websites

2. Develop a Question

Formulate an Answerable Question

P I C O: Formulate an Answerable Question
A Cochrane Library Tutorial illustrating the

          P (population/patient),

I (intervention/indicator),

C (comparator/control) and

O (outcome) process for developing a question.


Formulating Answerable Clinical Questions
From the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Toronto


3. Identify the Main Concepts

What are the most important concepts of your research question?

Is the risk of stroke reduced by treatment with anticoagulants in patients with atrial fibrillation?

4. Add Related Terms or Synonyms

Add appropriate synonyms or related terms and connect them with OR

Things to consider

Synonyms:       geriatric OR elderly OR aged
Antonyms:        regulated or deregulated
Alternatives:     take over or takeover, behavior or behaviour
Abbreviations:  anterior cruciate ligament OR ACL

Tips on finding synonyms

  1. For medical terms, use a medical dictionary or encyclopedia.
  2. Paste the term into a Word document.  Right click on the term to see synonyms.

Research question example

stroke OR cerebrovascular accident OR cerebral infarction

anticoagulants OR blood thinner

atrial fibrillation
atrial fibrillation OR auricular fibrillation OR A-fib 

Use the Search Generator to list and explore synonyms.

5. Select Database and Enter Search Terms

CINAHL, the premiere nursing database, is the best place to begin your search for research and evidence-based practice articles.  To access CINAHL click on the Health link on the library article databases page.  Limit your search to CINAHL by clicking on the Choose Databases link above the search box.


Enter each concept and the related terms connected by OR in an EBSCO search box.

Connect each of the concepts with AND

stroke OR cerebrovascular accident OR cerebral infarction


anticoagulants OR blood thinner


atrial fibrillation OR auricular fibrillation OR A-fib 


Additional information on using AND and OR is available in Boolean Searching

6. Focus Your Search by Applying Limits

Date and Peer Reviewed
The two most useful options under the Limit Your Results section of the EBSCO search page are the date and the peer reviewed boxes.

Full Text
Do not check the Full Text box. When this box is checked, articles from the most current issues of journals with a six or twelve month embargo will be eliminated.

You can order the articles for any citation without the full text through the library interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan articles generally arrive within 3-7 days.

Research Articles
To limit your search to research articles, scroll down the page with the search boxes to the Limit your results section.  Check the Research Article box.

See What is a Primary/Empirical Research Article? for an illustration of the elements you can expect to find in a research article.

Evidence-Based Practice
Search results can be limited to Evidence-Based Practice articles by checking the Evidence-Based Practice box.

Publication Type
Use the drop menu in Publication Type to limit your search to the following types of articles:

  • Meta Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

7. Scan Results for Additional Terms

After your search, scan the titles, subjects and abstracts of the first several articles. Pay attention to the terms used in the literature to describe your topic. Add these synonyms or related terms ito your search.

8. Broaden Search

EBSCO Databases

You may need to search additional databases to find research and evidence-based practice articles. Return to the Article Databases page and select the Health link.  In addition to the CINAHL database, you are searching three additional EBSCO databases with health articles.

Since these three databases do not have the option of limiting a search to research or evidence-based practice articles, we must rely on a less precise method to limit our search, which is described below. 

Research Articles
There are two types of research - quantitative and qualitative. Adding the terms quantitative OR qualitative OR research to your search will limit your search to articles with these terms. 

Evidence-Based Practice
Adding the phrase Evidence-Based Practice as a search term will retrieve articles with this phrase.

Additional Databases

See the Alvernia Library Evidence Based Databases for additional databases to search. 


Now that you learned how to cast a wide net to find lots of articles, let's look at how to focus our results on the most relevant articles.