Most of my searches begin with a well-designed PICO question. The PICO question can be placed in a table to help determine inclusion and exclusion criteria, which will be used later in the process.
Credit: Ecker, E. D., & Skelly, A. C. (2010). Conducting a winning literature search. Evidence-based spine-care journal, 1(1), 9.
Once I have my PICO question and inclusion/exclusion criteria, I begin searching the databases.
I usually start my search in PubMed. For example, if I'm doing research on the efficacy of vitamin C on sepsis patients in the ICU, my search might start using my three terms connected by the Boolean Operator AND: vitamin C AND sepsis AND ICU. PubMed automatically assigns entered terms to associated subject headings, called MeSH, provided that you don't use double quotes around phrases, such as quality of life. Double quotes can be used to search phrases in all other database. In this search, PubMed found MeSH terms for vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), sepsis (Sepsis), and ICU (Intensive Care Units). See Search Details in the right column to see how PubMed interprets a search.
("ascorbic acid"[MeSH Terms] OR ("ascorbic"[All Fields] AND "acid"[All Fields]) OR "ascorbic acid"[All Fields] OR "vitamin c"[All Fields]) AND ("sepsis"[MeSH Terms] OR "sepsis"[All Fields]) AND ("intensive care units"[MeSH Terms] OR ("intensive"[All Fields] AND "care"[All Fields] AND "units"[All Fields]) OR "intensive care units"[All Fields] OR "icu"[All Fields])
Please note that you can also modify the search and run it again. For instance, if I wanted to narrow the search, I could remove some redundant keywords and replace [All Fields] with [TIAB]. TIAB limits the search to title and abstract fields. Here's what the modified search would look like:
("ascorbic acid"[MeSH Terms] OR "ascorbic acid"[TIAB] OR "vitamin c"[TIAB]) AND ("sepsis"[MeSH Terms] OR "sepsis"[TIAB]) AND ("intensive care units"[MeSH Terms] OR "intensive care units"[TIAB] OR "icu"[TIAB])
The Boolean Operator OR is used to search terms related to each other. For example, vitamin C and ascorbic acid are related, so they would be combined in ( ) using OR. Most searches that you perform will contain both ORs and ANDs.
I then go to CINAHL where I can either copy and paste my search strategy, now ("vitamin C" OR "ascorbic acid") AND sepsis AND (ICU OR "intensive care units"), into Basic Search, or I can use CINAHL Headings to search each unique term (keyword) and CINAHL subject heading, if there is one. In this case, CINAHL Headings and MeSH use the same subject headings: Ascorbic Acid, Sepsis, and Intensive Care Units.
If the number of results is too high, I can either AND additional terms, or I can use Limit tools in PubMed and CINAHL, such as publication range or type of publication (e.g., Systematic Reviews/RCTs). If the number of results is too low, I can use the Boolean Operator OR to add additional related terms, or remove a keyword or two. I can also search the full-text of articles in CINAHL (select option to search full text), Science Direct (see link below in Other Databases and Tools), or Google Scholar, which is also linked below.
I then copy and paste my search into Web of Science and Cochrane to find systematic reviews and RCTs/CCTs. Please note that there is a separate tab for Trials. If needed, I also selectively search additional subject-specific databases, such as PsycINFO, Social Sciences Database, Joanna Briggs, ClinicalTrials.org, ERIC (Educational Literature), or PILOTS (traumatic stress literature). After searching the databases above, I sometimes search Google Scholar, especially if I need additional studies. Google Scholar searches the full-text of articles, which yields a larger set of results.
I might also search grey literature (anything not published in journals) by doing a Site search in Google. My grey literature search in Google might look like this: ("vitamin C" OR "ascorbic acid") AND sepsis AND (ICU OR "intensive care unit") site:.org. Using site:.org following my search retrieves content only from .org sites. I would then re-run the search using site:.edu and then site:.gov in place of site:.org. I also search the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality.
As I search each database and website, I export all citations into a citation manager (see box below).
Choose either F1000 Workspace, Zotero, Mendeley, or New RefWorks to manage your citations. All of these citation managers are free; however, Zotero and Mendeley limit free storage - Zotero (300MB) and Mendeley (2GB). The University of Virginia provides unlimited free storage for F1000 Workspace and RefWorks.
I support all four citation managers. Please email me if you have any questions about which citation manager is best for you.
(Use the PRISMA generator, or the modified PRISMA flow diagram (linked below), to represent article review process.)
If you need images for a presentation, start with the sources below.
AccessMedicine note that you can send the image directly to a PowerPoint slide
BioImage Search biomedical images you can use i.e., images with Public Domain & Creative Commons licenses
Historical Images (Contributed by Dan Cavanaugh, head of CMHSL Historical Collections).
PsycTESTS provides access to psychological tests, measures, scales, surveys, and other assessments as well as descriptive information about the test and its development and administration
Mental Measurements Yearbook find reviews, reliability and validity information for commercially available tests
ERIC use Tests/Questionnaires limit in Publication Type
CINAHL use Questionnaire/Scale limit in Publication Type
Check these sources to find the best match for an article you want to get published.
Directory of Nursing Journals a collective of nursing editors and publishers focused on meeting the research needs of the nursing profession
JANE (Journal/Author/Name Estimator) enter keywords and JANE will find best matching journals
JournalGuide in addition to searching by journal name, category or publisher, authors can use the title and abstract of a paper to discover journals that have already published articles on similar topics
Journal Citation Reports (JCR) tool for determining Impact Factor of a journal
Intro to JRC (3 min video)
Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory Listings of periodicals from over 200 countries. Check to see what indexes cover the journal.
Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) Comprehensive directory of open access journals. Look for approved journals (green checkmark) and listing of Article Processing Costs (APC).
What is Open Access? (8 min. video)
An article that has been cited by other authors has greater impact than other less-cited articles. Keep in mind, that current articles will be cited by fewer authors.
Grey = Grey Literature
EBP = Evidence Based Practice