Skip to Main Content

Pharmacy Preceptors: Creating a Search Strategy

Creating a Search Strategy

To find the evidence you need, it is key to make a research question searchable. Let's explore how to do this using this research question: 

How effective are mobile phone interventions in smoking cessation?

With this research question in mind, here is how it can be made 'searchable' in a database:

Step 1: Isolate the main concepts of your research question   

mobile phone interventions; smoking cessation

Step 2: Create a list of search terms/synonyms for each concept  

mobile phone = smartphone, smart phone, cell phone, cellular phone, text, short messaging service, SMS

smoking cessation = quitting smoking, stopping smoking, smoking prevention

We will not include the word 'intervention' as literature discussing mobile phones and smoking cessation would likely already be in the context of mobile phones as an intervention.

Step 3: Use search operators (AND/OR, truncation, phrase searching) to connect your search terms and to refine your results

         AND =  Joins different concepts; search results must contain all of the search terms

                      Example: ginger AND nausea

         OR = Typically joins synonyms; search results must contain at least one of the terms

                     Example: coronavirus OR covid19

        Truncation (*) = this is a shortcut which allows you to search different variations of a word by placing an asterisk after the root word.

                     Example: Searching vaccin* will find articles which say vaccine/s, vaccination, vaccinated, etc.

        Phrase Searching " " = placing quotation marks around more than two words allows you to search them as a phrase, in exact order.

                     Example: "smoking cessation"

Step 4: Use your search terms to create a single search statement and utilize search operators as appropriate

(smartphone* OR "smart phone*" OR "mobile phone*" OR "cell phone*" OR "cellular phone*" OR text* OR "short messaging service" OR SMS) AND ("smoking cessation" OR "quitting smoking" OR "stopping smoking" OR "smoking prevention") 

Tips: As each database is unique, it is important to consider if you need to adjust your search strategy for each database you search. Also, it is useful to consider using a combination of keywords (words appearing in the title and abstract of an article) and database subject headings (controlled vocabulary of the databases, such as MeSH, Emtree). Contact your pharmacy liaison librarian, Caitlin Carter, to learn more about searching the databases!

Search Strategy Template

The below search strategy template is a tool you can use to go through the steps of creating a solid search strategy. Use the template to:

  • Identify your research question
  • Isolate the main concepts of your research question
  • Create a list of search terms for each concept  
  • Use your search terms to create a single search statement

The search strategy template also includes useful examples so be sure to check it out!

Finding Related (Seed) Articles to Help Generate Search Terms