Searching and Writing

Define and structure your search question

A well-defined research question is the key to a successful search. It is important that you formulate and delimit your topic and define what you want to find information about.

PICO is useful when framing your topic and your search question. Based on the content in PICO, you can then build your search blocks:

  • Population: Patient group or population. 
  • Intervention: The intervention, method or treatment you want to study. 
  • Control: Is compared to the intervention. Will the studies you find be compared to other kinds of studies/treatments?
  • Outcome: Describes the effect you are interested in.

Example: Does naproxen offer more efficient pain relief than ibuprofen for patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis?

Population: Patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis
Intervention: Efficiency of pain treatment with naproxen
Control: Comparison with ibuprofen
Outcome: Improved pain treatment, higher quality of life, less pain

In most cases, you only need to search for terms describing Population, Intervention and perhaps Control since it is recommended to start with a broad search in order to not miss any relevant material.

Define inclusion and exclusion criteria

To help specify which criteria the results must meet in order for them to be of interest to you, you can define inclusion and exclusion criteria. You may want to take a look at publications with a specific study type, a certain publication date or language:

  • Inclusion criteria: Interview studies and observational studies
  • Exclusion criteria: Studies with publication dates older than 10 years and studies in languages ​​other than English

Divide into search blocks and find keywords

The words you chose to search with, are important tools. In order for the search terms to generate relevant database hits, it is important that they are placed in the right relationship to each other in search blocks. Each block should correspond to a part of your search question, and be combined with the other blocks with an AND or OR, depending on how you want the blocks to interact.

Knee osteoarthritis

In the search blocks above, Naproxen and Ibuprofen should be searched as synonyms using OR, to get either one of the terms or both, along with knee osteoarthritis. Read more about combining your search with Boolean operators under search techniques. When you use several different Boolean operators in a search, you need to use parentheses (). In most databases AND is processed before OR, so you need to check if you want to change the order:

Example: Knee osteoarthritis AND (Naproxen OR Ibubprofen)

Gather all search terms related to the same concept in a search block and find synonyms and different spellings (singular or plural forms, American or British English spellings). You should also consider using phrase searching and truncation where appropriate.

Knee Osteoarthritis
Naproxen OR Naprosin
Ibuprofen OR Ipren OR Salprofen