Skip to Main Content

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Library and information research strategies and resources for DNP students.

Basic Search Tips

Instead of typing a full question or sentence into a search engine, divide it up into smaller sections of keywords or phrases to use. 

Example research question: "How does social media affect children?" 

You can break this down in a variety of ways: 

Types of social media Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
Effects what? self image, bullying, ability to focus, evaluating information, etc. 
What age children? school-aged children, teenagers, etc.
Where? United States, Australia, North America, etc. 

One way to help keep your ideas organized is to create a concept map (or a mind map) that links all of these ideas to your central topic. Then you can mix and match your keywords from that map into search strings of keywords or phrases. 

Here are a couple of free websites that you can use to create concept maps: 

If you're having trouble finding sources with the keywords you've typed in, try coming up with synonyms to help find different results. 

For example, if you were looking for articles about the impact of the price of gas on the economy, you might consider the following synonyms: 

gas gasoline, fuel, fossil fuels
price cost, expense
economy finances, economic, fiscal, inflation
United States USA, America, North America

Here are a few resources that can help you find synonyms:

In the databases there are a number of search tools, also known as limiters that can help you narrow down your results:

Online Full Text

This limits to full text only items in that database. 

Recommendation: Don't use this unless you're in a time crunch. You can request items through interlibrary loan.

Peer Reviewed This limits to sources that have gone through an official peer review process. 
Date Range Use this to help limit by date - the last year, 5 years, 10 years, or even a custom range of time.
Source Type Limit by the type of source - article, book, news article, magazine article, trade publication, etc. 
Subject These are the most common keywords that are popping up in your search. Subjects are librarian recognized official keywords.
Language If your results list is full of sources in other languages, use this to limit to languages that you can read. 
Geography Use this to limit by location, e.g., the United States. 


It's really easy to just open up a search page, look for your topic, and then just pick something from the results page to use. But, what do you really know about that source? Is it really a "good source" to use for your paper? 

Whether you're using Google, Google Scholar, or even the library's databases, it is important to evaluate your sources. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Who wrote this? Why? What can you find out about them? 
  • Who published this? What's their reputation? 
    • A Google search can tell you a lot about the author and publisher and if you can't find information about them, it might not be the best source to use
  • Is this source relevant to my topic or am I just trying to make it work? 
    • If it's the latter, talk to your librarian! We can help you find a better source.
  • What evidence is used in this source? Where did it come from? 
  • Is there any obvious bias in the source? 
  • Is the source organized and written well?
  • How recently was this source published? 
    • For some areas, this is very important - you have to have recent sources. For other areas, this might not matter as much, especially if you're researching a past event or topic.

Boolean Operators

  • AND - looks for ALL the terms in your search, in any order. It's the default search for most databases, so if you don't type AND in between your terms, the database/search engine automatically does it anyway.
    For example: teenage AND pregnancy
  • OR - looks for ANY of the terms in your search. It's used to group synonyms together. Normally when you use the advanced search with more than one box, you can put all the synonyms on one line, using OR between them. But if you use the basic search with only one box, put your synonyms within parentheses.
  • For example: adolescents OR teenagers OR youth
  • NOT - excludes certain terms and normally is used at the end of a search statement. ​Use this operator with care; the recommendation is to use NOT only when you have too many irrelevant sources.
    For example: pharmaceuticals NOT illegal

So using the Boolean operators AND and OR from the previous nursing example, your search might look something like this:

Nursing Home AND (Patient Care OR Long-term Care) AND (Elderly OR Aged OR Geriatric):

Database Filters

Another way to make your search results more relevant is to apply database filters on the results page. For example, the CINAHL database (in EBSCOhost) has filters for age, inpatient or outpatient, male or female, and so on, that can be applied to your results. These filters are viewable in the EBSCO databases by clicking on the link to Show More, under the date slider bar:

Usually you'll select Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals and English Language:

Consider using limiters to replace some search terms. For example, rather than type in all the search terms for ​Elderly​, you can apply the Age Groups limiter to your search results:

You can always see what terms you've used and what limiters have been applied under ​Current Search. And you can always remove them if they are too limiting:

Subject Headings

At some point, you will be asked to write on or explore a topic that is more in-depth and thus will require a more comprehensive search. This can be a big task. Where do you begin?

  1. Start with a chart like below, to stay organized. On the left, write your original concepts
  2. Next, see if the database has a thesaurus or subject heading database built into it. For example, MeSH is the thesaurus n PubMed. The thesaurus will define the term and explain how to use it.
  3. Finally, there may be some terms not found in a thesaurus, perhaps because they are newer,  that you may also use. Include these terms using OR in between them in your search (see the explanation on using AND/OR/NOT above).