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