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Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)

Building a Search Strategy

Once you have developed your PICO and well-formed clinical question, you can begin to build your search strategy by translating the significant concepts of the PICO into a concept grid. 

"In adults with low back pain, is Ibuprofen compared to Panadol more effective in reducing back pain?"

Concept 1: Low back pain Concept 2: Ibuprofen     

It is useful to start with a broad search using the Population and Intervention elements of the PICO. If your search requires further refinement, you may consider including the Comparator and then limit your results to the Study design.

Alternative Keywords

Authors often use different terms to describe the same concept. When searching it is important to consider alternative terms (synonyms) and spelling variations that may have been used. Think about:

  • Medical vs. Common terms e.g. Varicella Zoster / Chicken pox
  • Acronyms / Abbreviations e.g. COPD / Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Generic vs. Brand name drugs e.g. Acetaminophen / Panadol
  • English vs. American terminology e.g. Tumour / Tumor
  • Broader vs. Narrower terms e.g. Obesity surgery / Bariatric surgery

Similar terms can be added to the grid beneath the relevant concept:

Concept 1: Low back pain Concept 2: Ibuprofen     

Low back pain

Lower back pain

Back pain



Lumbar pain





Combining Search Terms

You can narrow or expand your search results by using AND and OR between multiple keywords:

  • AND - Use to combine keywords that reflect different concepts e.g. Low back pain AND ibuprofen. Narrows your results.
  • OR - Use to combine keywords that reflect similar concepts e.g. Ibuprofen OR Nurofen OR Advil OR Brufen. Broadens results.

Advanced Search Operators in Databases

Additional search functions provide even further control to the advanced researcher! To build your skills and search with greater precision, consult the Help documentation linked in the database's main menus for a concise description of supported functions.

Here are some common examples:

  • Truncation (usually *) can be used to find alternate endings of a word e.g. educat* for educate, educated, education, educational etc.
  • Phrase searching (" ") can be used to search for two or more words as a phrase rather than individually e.g. "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease"
  •  Wildcards  (usually ?) can be used for spelling variations e.g. tumo?r for tumour and tumor

PICO Worksheet

Here is a worksheet to help you progress through these steps and organize your search: