This is a guide for GRC's nursing students.

Construct Searches

Follow these 3 steps to design effective advanced searches:

1. FIRST, brainstorm your own search words and gather additional search words from "BACKGROUND INFO" such as encyclopedias and other reference sources

click image to enlarge:

shows example of finding search words in a background info article

2. NEXT, design your advanced search to use in library databases

  • To start your research, type into a database the search word(s) that describe ONE ASPECT of your topic (look in this guide for a list of library databases to perform your search in)
  • Note that you will need to design several different searches to find info on different aspects of your topic 
    • Below is a search designed to find info on nursing considerations for high blood pressure in pregnant women. You might need to design a different, modified search to find out how high blood pressure in pregnant women affects fetal stillbirth, for example.

click image to enlarge:

(Click to enlarge the image)

To start your research, type into the database the search word(s) that describe your topic.

Example: “high blood pressure” 

  • Option: Use AND to connect your ideas and focus your search: “high blood pressure” AND pregnancy
  • Option: Use quotation marks to keep a phrase together in your search: “high blood pressure”
  • Option: In the same box, use OR to expand your search to synonyms or related ideas:  pregnancy OR prenatal
  • Option: Use an asterisk to find word variations. For example,   nurs*     finds nurse, nurses, nursing, nurse practitioner

3. FINALLY, design your advanced search to use in search engines like Google

Google and Google Scholar also give you the power to construct complex searches.

Use a similar same technique as constructing a search in a medical database:

(click on image to enlarge)

  • Option: Use AND to connect your ideas and focus your search: “high blood pressure” AND pregnancy
  • Option: Use quotation marks to keep a phrase together in your search: “high blood pressure”
  • Option: Within parenthesis, use OR to expand your search to synonyms or related ideas: pregnancy OR prenatal

Note – Google generally finds variants of words by default.



(you can also use these as search words to narrow and focus your results)

WHO  is involved or affected
  • Focus by characteristics
    (age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, disability, health status...etc.)

example topic: stress
example answers:                                                

children, elderly, college students, veterans, pregnant mothers, caregivers

WHAT is the health issue?
  • Focus by specific type, name or aspect
    (example: Aspartame as a specific type of sugar additive, Mediterranean Diet as a type of diet, cutting as a type of self-harm, aggression as one aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder)
  • Focus by risk factors or symptoms
    (physical, psychological, chemical/hormonal, neurological)

example topic: stress
example answers:

type: acute, chronic

risk factors: job loss, death of family member

symptoms: heart racing, jaw clenching, insomnia

WHERE in body or mind?
  • Focus by Body Systems
    (vascular, digestive, excretory, endocrine, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, urinary, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal..etc.)
  • Focus by Mind
    (area of brain, type of brain activity, disease of brain)

example topic: stress
example answers:

body: hypertension, rash breakouts, weight gain/loss, stomach acid, migraines, immune system

mind: depression, nervous breakdown, social anxiety

WHY is this happening?
  • Focus by cause or etiology
    (physical/mechanical, pharmacological, chemical/hormonal, neurological, genetic, psychological, cultural, situational, environmental, age...etc.)

example topic: stress
example answers:

relationship issues, job loss, start of new job, death of family member, change in medications, pandemic, war

HOW should this be solved?
  • Focus by prevention techniques OR intervention, therapy, treatment OR nursing tasks
    (physical/mechanical, psychological, neurological, surgical, pharmacological, chemical/hormonal, genetic, cultural, situational, environmental, lifestyle change, nursing intervention..etc.)

example topic: stress
example answers:

prevention: meditation, yoga, social support, good sleep habits

treatment: music therapy, massage, Xanax, good nutrition, exercise

nursing tasks: Nursing intervention, Nursing diagnosis, Nursing assessment, Nursing Screening, Nursing Patient Education


To BROADEN searches (when you have too few results):

• perform your search in other databases/search tools

• add more related search words with “OR” (example: refugees OR migrants OR asylum seekers)

• remove words from your search or add fewer search words with “AND”

• truncate search words (example: a search of smok* finds smoke, smoking, smokers)

• use broader subject headings (example: domestic violence instead of child abuse)

• do not limit results to full text

• consider slightly refocusing your topic:

  • generalizing your scope (pre-surgery anxiety instead of just fear of anesthesia)
  • excluding the most narrow aspect of your topic (hydration in palliative care instead of hydration in hemodialysis patients in palliative care)
  • generalizing a narrow aspect of your topic (self-harm instead of cutting as the specific type of self-harm)
  • generalizing causes (treating trauma instead of treating pandemic trauma)
  • expand the population (children with asthma OR elderly with asthma)
  • expanding the time period (perinatal instead of just pre-natal)
  • expand to different settings (hospitals OR community health centers)
  • expand to different interventions (massage therapy OR music therapy OR meditation) 
  • incorporate multidisciplinary perspectives (exercise motivation techniques in nursing and physical therapy)

Video: How to Use Keywords to Form a Research Strategy

Source: "From topic to search results in two minutes! " by Holman Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Learn about strategizing keywords and how databases work when searching keywords.

Try It!

decorative check markChoose one topic below.  Practice constructing a search from that scenario:

Scenario A:

What are some nursing considerations for elderly patients who receive the flu vaccine?

Scenario B:

How might nurses help with depression that often affects stroke patients?

Scenario C:

What should nurses be aware of when treating veterans with PTSD?

Scenario D:

Create your own nursing scenario that interests you!

PICOT: Develop Your Research Question

Developing your Research Question

Follow the steps below.
  1.  Use the PICOT acronym to help you create a research question:

P = Patient/Population/Problem

Who is your patient? Identify a disease, health status, age, race, geographic region, sex, or a specific characteristic important to your question.

Example: stroke patients

= Intervention/Indicator

What do you plan to do for the patient? Identify a specific test, therapy, medication or management strategy.

Example: virtual reality, occupational therapy

= Compare/Control

What is the alternative to your plan? Examples may include: no treatment or a different type of treatment.

Example: non-VR (or option to have no comparison)

= Outcome

What outcome do you seek? Identify possible outcomes/results of the intervention such as less symptoms, no symptoms, or better quality of life...etc.

Example: rehabilitation, flexibility, mental health

= Time/Type of Study or Question (This element is optional and not always included)

What is the time frame? What study types will most likely have the information you seek? 

Example: systematic review


  1. Search article databases using some of the concepts/words you generated from the PICO acronym: