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Michigan State University

CHM Clinician Educator Mentoring Program

Collection of helpful resources for those participating in CHM's CEMP program

Building a Search

Searching for literature is an iterative process. It is rare that the first search you put together will be your first and only attempt. You will want to revise and refine your search as you go along. Always keep your research topic and inclusion and exclusion criteria in mind as you refine the search.

Searching Through Concept Mapping

Having an appropriate topic scope is critical to successfully finding and appraising literature. If your scope is too broad you're search will be full of irrelevant hits, but too narrow means you may find nothing - not even similar articles. Before you search you should define your research topic and the scope of your project. Several strategies to do so can be found below.

There are several different mnemonics to help you map your search. Some will be more applicable than others depending on the discipline and subfield your topic fits into.

Clinical Scenarios

PICO: Patient/Problem; Intervention; Comparison; Outcome

PPAARE: Problem; Patient; Action; Alternative; Results, Evidence

Non-Clinical Questions

Concept Breakout: start by breaking your topic into its major concepts. This is similar to what you do when you have a clinical question but you are not confined to thinking about your concepts as either a patient or an intervention or a comparison or an outcome. By doing this you will be able to match concepts to keywords and controlled vocabulary terms and break your topic into discrete, searchable pieces.

Keyword Choice

After breaking your search out into concepts you will want to think about keywords to include.

Keywords, synonyms, and related terms are all helpful. Try thinking about how a concept would be described in the literature.

For example, it is rare that academic literature would use the term "baby" instead one could use: infant, newborn, pediatric.

When thinking of keywords try writing them underneath your major concepts, this will help you keep everything organized and straightforward. It will also help you craft a boolean search with consistent internal logic.

Phrases & Truncation

Along with Boolean Logic you can also use punctuation and truncation to craft an efficient and effective search strategy.

Punctuation: use quotation marks "   " around words to search them as a phrase. For example, search for "rheumatoid arthritis" with quotation marks and most databases will search for it as a phrase instead of two distinct search terms.

Truncation: in many databases the truncation symbol is the asterix * . Put an asterix in word like prevent* and it will search for prevent, prevents, prevention, preventing etc.. It is an easy way to find many forms of a word without typing in all the keywords yourself.

Example: residen* finds: resident, residents, residency

Search Logic

In most academic databases (except GoogleScholar) you combine keywords using "Boolean Logic." Boolean Logic is the process of using AND, OR, or NOT to combine search terms into search strategies. An easy way to think about Boolean Logic is that AND narrows your search, OR broadens your search, and NOT excludes results.

Sample Question: Are there studies on education for residents or medical students about ebola?

Sample Search: ("medical education" OR "curriculum") AND (residen* OR "medical student") AND (ebola OR "ebola hemorrhagic fever" OR "ebola fever")

Use AND when you want the search to find all of those words in the results. For example, searching for genetic AND engineering will find only results that have both of those words in it.

Use OR to find any or all of your terms in the results. For example, searching for genetic OR engineering will find results that include only the terms genetic, only the terms engineering, and both genetic and engineering,

Use NOT to exclude terms from your results. Use this sparingly, in particular if you are looking for a specific population because if you want to find a study that includes men if you NOT women than it will exclude studies that have both genders included in the sample. This can remove articles that may be useful.

If you wanted to find articles that included the term genetic but not engineering you would search for genetic NOT engineering.

Here is a printable handout that explains Boolean Operators

Advanced: Controlled Vocabularies

Controlled vocabularies (CV) are used in many academic databases to make your search more targeted and relevant than just using keywords. They are assigned to articles by a human being and are often described as showing the "aboutness" of the article. If you use them your search results are often smaller but much more relevant than using only keywords. Be aware that articles published within the last 6 months may not have CV assigned to them and combining CV and keywords is the best way to find all relevant results.

Sample Question: Are there studies on education for residents or medical students about ebola?

Sample Search:

including MeSH from PubMed:

("medical education" OR "curriculum" OR "Education, Medical"[Mesh]) AND (residen* OR "medical student" OR "Students, Medical"[Mesh]) AND (ebola OR "ebola hemorrhagic fever" OR "ebola fever" OR "Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola"[Mesh] OR "Ebolavirus"[Mesh])

In Databases

There are several controlled vocabulary terms that are relevant to medical education and research in each. Always try to use the narrowest term possible. Look at where the terms fall in the hierarchical structures and pay special attention to any entry dates you see.

PubMed: MeSH/Medical subject headings, NLM "Using MeSH in PubMed" tutorial video

Embase: Emtree Headings, "Getting Started with Embase" video tutorial - includes Emtree

CINAHL: CINAHL Headings, "Using CINAHL Headings in a Search" tutorial video

ERIC: ERIC Thesaurus, "Searching Eric Guide" from Proquest, Proquest Thesaurus tutorial video

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