Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Preparation for Professional Writing: Pre Search

NUR 303

Figuring It All Out


Research is an intimidating process for many people, especially if you've never really learned how to do it properly.  

There are some simple steps that can help anyone and everyone to complete excellent research.  

This guide will walk you through some basic steps and simple tips that will help you make the most of the research process.

Research Journal

This research journal was developed for Alvernia University's faculty and students by the Franco Library Staff.  It includes several activities that will help you throughout the research process including:

  • Creating a research question
  • Brainstorming keywords & search terms
  • Search strategies
  • Recording the research process
  • Citing your sources

1. Pre Search Browsing

The links below are great places to start in developing a research question.  Browsing current events and hot topics can spark your interest and inspire a topic.

While browsing ask yourself:  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.

2. Develop A Question

Try asking yourself these question starters to help develop a research question

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • Why?


Topic:  Obesity

Who? teenagers

What? consumption of high fat foods

Where? school cafeterias

Question:  How does the consumption of high fat foods in school cafeterias contribute to teenager obesity?


Topic: Smoke Exposure

Who?  children exposed to smoke

What?  developmental abilities

Question:  How does smoke exposure alter the developmental abilities of children?

3. Identify the Main Concepts

Ask yourself:  What are the most important concepts of your research question?


Topic:  How effective is pet therapy for elderly patients suffering from depression?

Major Concepts:  pet therapy, elderly patients, depression


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

Major Concepts:  stroke, anticoagulants, atrial fibrillation

4. Add Related Terms or Synonyms And Truncate Terms

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 non-medical terms 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 

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

Truncate Terms

Broaden your search by placing an * after the root of a word.  The search will include all variations of the word.

manag* = manage, managing, management, etc.

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-EBSCO 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

What are limits and why use them?

Limits are helpful in focusing your search.  Once you've done your initial search you can use some limits to help you narrow your results to a more manageable amount of information.

  • Date:  limit results to a specific time frame
  • Peer review:  limit to only peer-reviewed articles
  • Full text:  find only the articles available in full text  **TIP:  you can request an article that isn't available through Interlibrary Loan
  • Publication type:  limit results to meta analysis, reviews, systematic reviews, research articles, and evidence based practice.
    • Your assignment is to find research articles, not review articles. See What is a Primary/Empirical Research Article for an illustration of the elements you can expect to find in a research article.
    • 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.
    • Search results can be limited to Evidence-Based Practice articles by checking the Evidence-Based Practice box.
    • To exculde systematic reviews, use the drop down arrow to change AND to NOT, enter the term systematic review, and use the Select a Field drop down arrow to select PT Publication Type.

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.

Your search will be the most successful when you are using the terminology professionals in the field use.

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 EBSCO link.  In addition to the CINAHL database, you will search three additional EBSCO databases with health articles.

These three databases do not have the option of limiting a search to research or evidence-based practice articles. To limit your search use the methods 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

Research and evidence-based practice articles can be found in PubMed and Google Scholar.

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.