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.

Nursing Research

Tips, techniques & links to help you find answers for your research papers & projects

Getting Started

Refine your question.   A focused well defined question is easier to answer than a general one.  The PICO framework can help with this.  PICO stands for:  P = population, problem; I = Intervention; C = Comparison; O = Outcomes.  Answering the questions such as the following will help you focus and refine your question: Who is my population? What is the specific problem? What interventions am I considering?  What outcomes do I want measured?

Use multiple databases.  There will be overlap in what you find, but each will have something unique.   The following are useful for most if not all searches:

               MEDLINE or PubMed (basically the same database, just different search interface)


Extrapolation is key.  Keep in mind that you may have to pull pieces of information from various articles to make your point.  You may not – probably won’t – find the perfect article that sums up your position. 

Take notes as you go.  It’s quite hard to find or document things after the fact.  (I’ve found this out the hard way!)  So track where you search, the terms you use, and the citations you find as you go.  How you track it doesn't matter.  Just track it.  Also, if an article looks *remotely* useful, make note of it.  It’s always easier to cross it off later than try to find it again.  (Sometimes you can’t find it again.  I’ve learned that the hard way too.)

Using Subject Terms, aka MeSH, and Text Words

Spell out terms.  Searching acronyms or abbreviations often means fewer or missed results.  For example, searching APN in CINAHL or PubMed returns fewer citations than searching either Advanced Practice Nurses or Advanced Nursing Practice.

Use available subject terms.   In CINAHL, for example, searching global health takes you to the subject term World Health. This usually gets you more results and also allows you to use the Explode function to include more specific subject terms.
Explode when using subject terms.   If you look at the subject terms Advanced Practice Nurses or Advanced Nursing Practice, in CINAHL, you’ll see that you can check a box labeled ‘Explode.’   This will include additional subject terms in your search.  In the case of Advanced Practice Nurses, it adds the following 12 subject terms to your search.  (Note, PubMed automatically uses the "explode" function".)

             Advance Practice Nurses

Clinical Nurse Specialists

Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse Midwives

Nurse Practitioners +

Acute Care Nurse Practitioners

Adult Nurse Practitioners

Emergency Nurse Practitioners

Family Nurse Practitioners

Gerontologic Nurse Practitioners

OB-GYN Nurse Practitioners

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners +

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners

Look for additional terms to search on in titles, abstracts, assigned subject terms, and full text of articles.   You might find that there are additional terms that you can search on.  For the global health example, perhaps terms such as Medically Underserved combined with a geographic location might work.  Or Public Health combined with a geographic location.  Not everyone in a specific specialty or field uses the same terms when writing up articles.  Trick is to find the terms that they do use.  Once you find the terms, re-do the search. 

Check the subject terms used by the database/search engine you are in.   Each one has a different focus and can use a different term for the same idea.  You can also use this as a way to find additional terms that you can add into your search.

Combining Terms

Combining Search Terms

Improve your results by combining your terms with AND, OR, NOT. 

AND  - narrows your searches
   Ex.  Obesity AND Stress

OR - broadens your searches
    Ex. Stress OR anxiety OR

 Most databases will have pull down boxes where you can select AND or OR.

You can also use these together by using parenthesis.
     (obesity OR overweight) AND (sugared drinks OR sweetened beverage* OR soft drink* OR juice OR sports drinks)