How to Search for External Evidence in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

Familiarize yourself with the following search-strategy best practices and the nuances of each database to help locate relevant, high-quality, and up-to-date external scientific evidence.  

Example: For the patient, intervention, comparison, and outcomes (PICO) question, "For children with autism spectrum disorder, what is the effect of pivotal response treatment on language development?", here are some tips to improve your search results:

Develop and refine a list of search terms.

Extract the keywords from your PICO question.

For children with autism spectrum disorder, what is the effect of pivotal response treatment on language development? 

Consider synonyms, related terms, and acronyms for each keyword. 

Children → Child 
Autism spectrum disorder
 → autistic, ASD 
Pivotal response treatment
 → PRT

Include relevant study designs as keywords. 

See Understanding Research Designs and External Scientific Evidence for more on selecting relevant study designs for your PICO question. 

Create a search string.

Combine keywords with Boolean operators that are conjunctions to expand or narrow your search.

  • AND finds articles that contain both words.
  • OR finds articles that contain either word.

Children OR Child AND autism spectrum disorder OR autistic OR ASD AND pivotal response treatment OR PRT AND language

Group similar terms, and specify the order of the search with parentheses.

(Children OR Child) AND (autism spectrum disorder OR autistic OR ASD) AND (pivotal response treatment OR PRT) AND language

Maximize your keywords. 

Adding an asterisk at the end of a word stem will find all words that start with those letters. 

Child* = (Child OR Children) 

Surround phrases in quotation marks to find that specific phrase and not just articles that contain all of those words somewhere in the article. 

pivotal response treatment 

= pivotal AND response AND treatment 



"pivotal response treatment" 

= ("pivotal response treatment") 

Select relevant databases, and tailor your search to each database. 

Each database is different, and how you develop your search strategy depends on the database that you use. Familiarizing yourself with a database’s special rules will increase your chances of finding research relevant to you and will save you time overall. For example, the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) doesn’t support searching with asterisks. PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms, which are umbrella terms that combine many smaller keywords into a single, unifying one. See below for those special rules in action.  

ERIC contains education literature. 

(Child OR Children) AND ("autism spectrum disorder" OR autistic OR ASD) AND ("pivotal response treatment" OR PRT) AND language  

ASHAwire contains audiology and speech-language pathology literature from ASHA publications.   

(Child*) AND ("autism spectrum disorder" OR autistic OR ASD) AND ("pivotal response treatment" OR PRT) AND language 

PubMed contains life science and biomedical literature. 

("Child"[Mesh] OR Child*) AND ("Autism Spectrum Disorder"[Mesh] OR "autism spectrum disorder" OR autistic OR ASD) AND ("pivotal response treatment" OR PRT) AND language 

Filter by publication date, article type, last 10 years, or peer review only, to get relevant, up-to-date results.

Quick Tip:

Note that although the provided tips apply in most cases, they may not apply in all cases. Every database has some special rules in addition to the common ones.

Reconfigure your search to optimize results. 

Searching is an iterative process. Refine your search with additional keywords and filters as you progress to find the literature most relevant to you. Further refinements may produce a search such as this:

(Child*) AND (autis* OR ASD) AND ("pivotal response" OR PRT) AND language

Quick Tips:

  • Copy and paste the search strings of each database to keep track of your results.
  • Stuck, or want full-text access? Academic networking sites can be a great way to connect with other professionals to share, discover, and discuss research.

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