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Collect keywords

When you begin searching for information, you must identify keywords related to your topic or research question. Be creative! You can find important keywords in your research question, in encyclopedias and glossaries. In most databases you can find search words that are useful in the database thesaurus. If you find a relevant article that article's content is described with words either from the thesaurus or from the author.

When brainstorming keywords, this worksheet can be of help . Fill out your research question at the top, identify your key concepts in the second line and fill out synonyms and related terms in the columns. 

How to formulate your questions

The PICO model is widely used and taught in evidence-based health care as a strategy for formulating questions and search strategies and for characterizing clinical studies or meta-analyses . PICO stands for 4 different potential components of a clinical question:

  • Patient, Population or Problem
    • What are the characteristics of the patient or population (demographics, risk factors, pre-existing conditions, etc)?
    • What is the condition or disease of interest?
  • Intervention
    • What is the intervention under consideration for this patient or population?
  • Comparison
    • What is the alternative to the intervention (e.g. placebo, different drug, surgery)?
  • Outcome
    • What are the relevant outcomes (e.g. quality of life, change in clinical status, morbidity, adverse effects, complications)

Some words explained

Thesaurus - A controlled vocabulary that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts.

Cinahl Headings - Thesaurus found in Cinahl.

Descriptors - In som databases the words in the thesaurus or is called descriptors.

MeSH - Medical Subject Headings. The thesaurus found in PubMed and Cochrane.

Keyword - Either own words that the author uses to describe the article (not using the thesaurus) or words used to describe the key concepts in a research question.

Free-text terms - words used in a search that is not found in the thesaurus.