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Nursing Research : The Research Strategy

Searching Databases

Most databases (including Novanet and Google) use boolean operators, truncation, proximity searching, etc. enabling the searcher to create search strategies. This comprehensive guide shares details on search operators, using wildcards or truncation, and much, much more.  Use a database's HELP section (usually upper, right) to learn particulars about a database's search functions.

Information specific to CINAHL's wildcards and truncation symbols is located to the right.

Creating a Search Strategy

  1. Create a Research Statement
    This can be in the form of a question or a sentence.  Think about what you want to search and write it down in one sentence.
  2. Identify the Keywords
    Look at your research statement. What are the main words or concepts?  They will likely be nouns and can include phrases.  Highlight them.
  3. Think of Synonyms
    Look at the words/phrases you highlighted and think of synonyms or other phrases to describe those concepts. Scholarly articles often use words we don't use in ordinary life. You can consult a dictionary or a thesaurus for this purpose.
  4. Search the Databases 
    Pick two or three words/phrases from your list. Put each concept in it own search box.

CINAHL's Truncation & Wildcard Symbols

Allow you to insert an undefined letter into a search term. Some wildcard options also allow you to search for a word in which the added letter may or may not be there. In CINAHL, this is done using two separate symbols:

Wildcard ? 
When using a ? wildcard, insert the ? in place of a letter. CINAHL will search that term with all the 26 letters of the alphabet in the location of the ?. 

 If you type ne?t, your results may include the words next, newt, nest, and neat.

Wildcard #
When using a wildcard #, insert the # in the location where there may or may not be an additional letter.

 If you type colo#r, your results may include both colour and color.


Is a means of telling the database to look for the search term, as well as all other terms that share the same beginning letters (the letters that come before the truncation symbol).

 If you type comput*, your results may include computer, computing, computational, etc.

Proximity Searching

Allows you to relate two words in a search, even knowing that they may be separated by another (or several other) words. In proximity searches in CINAHL, use the command N and the number of intervening words to direct the database.

 If you type (diabetes) N2 (type II), your results will display the words diabetes and type II within two words of one another.