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Research and Evidence-Based Nursing Practice: Article Searching Tips

Tools and resources for students exploring evidence-based practice and doing nursing research

Check first

Caveat: Not all search engines use these techniques.  Check the search engine help to see if this can be done. 
It's most common on subscription databases.

Combining Keywords - Using Boolean Operators

Keywords are words or phrases that best describe the information you want. They are the most essential parts of the question! Keywords are used for search engines on both the subscription databases at ACC and the web. Example:

What are the causes of diabetes in children?

diabetes AND children AND causes

As in the example above, for a more precise search, one can combine keywords using certain words called Boolean Operators -- OR, AND, NOT.  (See the examples on the right for clarification.)

Example Search:  Find articles about memory in the elderly but not articles about Alzheimer's.

There may be articles about this topic that do not use the keyword elderly. [CINAHL search results: 24,107] How can we capture those?

Using the OR operator:

We can combine similar words with th OR operator to pick up those articles.  Example:  (elderly OR old OR aged)

[CINAHL search results:  279,767]

How do we use that in our search to find what we need?  We start with...

Using the AND operator:

(elderly OR old OR aged) AND memory

[CINAHL search results:  3,941]

To finish our search, we want to get rid of articles about Alzheimer's.  How do we do that?

Using the NOT operator:

(elderly OR old OR agedAND memory NOT alzheimer's

[CINAHL search results:  3,355]

Combining Keywords - Boolean Searching Examples

This image borrowed from a PIKTOCHART by Courtney Mlinar

Other Techniques

Phrase Searches

Often keywords are more than one word. Most search engines let you put quotation marks around these so only results with the exact phrase are listed.  Examples:  "rap music"  ---  "cell phone"

Truncation / Wildcards

Shortening a keyword to its basic stem and adding a special character (usually an asterisk "*" or "?") at the end will tell the computer to search for variations on the word.  [Common symbols/wildcards include: *, !, ?, or # .]

Searching for politic* will find:


Wildcards usually represent any character and can be used within a word. The pound symbol (#) or the question mark (?) are the most commonly used.
Example: wom#n retrieves woman or women --- colo?r retrieves color or colour


Combines concepts and techniques. The search engine will search for what's grouped or nested inside the parentheses first.

("rap music" OR "hip hop") AND censorship

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