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PICOT Question & Search Strategy Examples

Search Strategy Best Practices


Only include essential keywords or phrases in your search

Include synonyms (other ways of describing your terms) in your search strategy. 


Generally avoid punctuation, except the asterisk * and quotes " " as needed.

The asterisk truncates your search terms and brings back results that use all variations of a term after where the asterisk is placed. 

  • nurs* brings back results that include the words nurse, nurses, nursed, or nursing

Quotes keep a phrase (two or more words) together in an exact order

  • "hospital acquired infection"--  using quotes will bring back these three words in this exact order
  • "patient educat*"-- you can combine quotes and the asterisk. This would bring back "patient educator," "patient education," "patient educated," etc. 

Acronyms and Abbreviations

Spell out acronyms. For example, instead of ICU, search for intensive care.

Boolean Operators

Use AND to focus your search, OR to broaden it 

  • (cancer AND smoking): brings back results that include both terms
  • (cancer OR neoplasm): brings back results that include either the term cancer OR the term neoplasm

Use synonyms and Boolean operators to build an advanced search

  • (cancer OR neoplasm) AND (smoking OR tobacco OR cigarettes) 

Avoid confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor information that confirms existing beliefs or ideas. Your research question should investigate a topic, not prove a point. Generally, you want to avoid words like improve, help, reduce, improve, mitigate. For example, a research question that uses a non-directional term like "what is the effect of x on y?" is less likely to introduce confirmation bias than the question "does x improve y?" 

PICO Example #1

PICO Question

P: NICU Patients
I: Oral Sucrose Administration
C: No Oral Sucrose Administration 
O: Pain Management 
Among NICU patients, how effective is oral sucrose, as compared to no oral sucrose, in pain management? 

Essential PICO concepts:

NICU, Sucrose, Pain Managment

Use search best practices: 

NICU OR neonatal intensive care (always spell out acronyms)
Sucrose OR sugar (include synonyms or related terms)
Pain OR analges* (truncate analgesia to bring back results that use analgesic or analgesia)

Search strategy: 

(NICU OR "neonatal intensive care") AND (sucrose OR sugar) AND (pain or analgesi*)

PICO Example #2

PICO Question

P: Patients with diabetes living in rural areas

I: telehealth delivered self-management education

C: usual care

O: patient outcomes

In patients with diabetes living in rural areas, what is the effect of telehealth delivered self-management education, as compared with usual care on patient outcomes?

Essential PICO concepts 

Diabetes, rural, telehealth, self-management 

Use search strategy best practices

Diabet* (truncate to bring back results that use the term diabetes or diabetic)
Telehealth OR telemedicine OR telenursing (include as many synonyms as you can think of, and always look for additional relevant terms in the titles and abstracts of articles)
Self-management OR patient education 

Search strategy

Diabet* AND Rural AND (Telehealth OR telemedicine OR telenursing) AND (Self-management OR patient education)

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