Nursing Guide


Unlike the Web, databases require us to be careful about our search terms.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are terms - words and phrases – used to search electronic databases, online catalogs, and the Web for information. To more easily identify keywords, frame your topic into a statement or question and then select the most important concepts. These are the terms you will use in your search.

Ex: Are prescription drugs for depression addictive?

Choosing Keywords


Suggestion #1 It’s most effective to keep your database search simple, using up to two or three keywords or phrases. Searching is a process. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t successful at first; try new keyword combinations.

Suggestion #2  We can’t always know exactly how the author has chosen to express their concept – so always think of synonyms – terms that mean the same, or almost the same, thing.

  Ex:    HIV vs AIDS  

            colleges vs universities vs higher education

Suggestion #3  If you are searching for an article in an online database, and your search produces too many results, you can easily reduce and focus your results list by:  adding or changing keywords to make your topic more specific, or add Limiters such as Date Range (Published Date From) or Scholarly/Peer-reviewed  journals

If you get too few results, consider reducing the number of search terms or limiters, or trying keywords that are broader in concept.

Searching by Author

This is an example of database searching for articles by a particular author and their theory: In the box to the right of the search box where you enter the theorist's or author's name, pull down the menu and select Author.  

In the second search box where you enter the name of the theory, you can leave the box to the right as Select a Field which designates a keyword search.


Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators - link search terms with these to obtain specific results:

AND – includes all terms.  Narrows search results.

        Ex. drugs AND athletes. Results will include both terms, not just drugs or athletes alone

OR – includes any term.  Broadens search results.

         Ex.. colleges OR universities.  Useful when searching synonymous terms – saves having to do separate searches.

NOT – excludes terms.  Narrows search results.

        Ex. cirrhosis NOT alcohol. Will produce results about cirrhosis, but not alcohol-related cirrhosis.

Phrase Searching

Phrase Searching – use quotation marks to search your terms all together as a phrase.  (EBSCO databases assume phrase searching, but most do not.)

Ex. “prescription drug” or “Madeleine Leininger” or “evidence-based practice”


Truncation – searches for a root word with varying endings.  Use the * or ? symbols, depending on the database.

Ex: diet* will result in: diet, diets, dieting, dietary, dietician, dieticians, etc.

What is the benefit?  If you use truncation, you are able to use the root word and get results with the various endings - so one search instead of many.