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Evidence Based Practice: Step 4: Planning a search

Planning a Search

To find the best evidence to answer a clinical question, you need a strong search strategy. A good search strategy should include advanced search syntax and alternative search terms. Use the literature search plans below to plan and organise your search strategy. 

Advanced search syntax

Advanced search syntax, such as truncation and wildcards, can be used to improve the results of your database searches. The file below includes key operators that can be incorporated into an evidence-based practice search.

Alternative search terms

When searching for evidence based literature, it's important to include synonyms and alternative terms to find all relevant literature. This can include words that are spelled differently overseas (e.g. paediatric and pediatric), concepts that are referred to differently (e.g. physiotherapy and physical therapy), conditions with both formal and informal names (e.g. heart attack and myocardial infarction) and terms that have changed over time (e.g. exercise induced asthma and exercise induced bronchospasm).

Refining a search

If you have too many results:

  • Add limits to your results (date range, publication type, etc.)
  • Add more concepts (location, age range, etc.)
  • Use more specific terms

If you don't have enough results:

  • Use broader or more general search terms
  • Remove limits
  • Remove concepts if possible
  • Use a different database

If your results are completely irrelevant:

  • Remove terms with more than one meaning 
  • Use terms or subject headings used in useful or relevant articles



Step 3: Identify the study
designs that best 
answer the question


Limits and filters

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