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MD Research Project Literature Searching Guide

Searching the Literature

Planning a Search Strategy

Some research topics or clinical questions are more straightforward than others. However, the process of converting a research question into a search strategy can sometimes be difficult.

How do I do this?

The PICO formula might help.

The PICO process is used to frame (and answer) a clinical or health care related question. PICO is also used to develop search strategies for literature reviews.

P             patient, problem or population

I               intervention

C             comparison, control or comparator


This is my research topic:

The use of telehealth to support the self-management of asthma in rural or regional communities

This is my PICO:

Population: asthma patients in rural or regional communities

Intervention: telehealth or telemedicine

Comparison: Face-to-face

Outcome: effective management and control of asthma in rural and regional communities

Use the research topic (or clinical question) to build a search strategy.

asthma OR wheezing AND telehealth OR telemedicine AND rural OR regional OR remote

Use PubVenn to visualise your PubMed search strategy.

Consider using Text Mining to assist with search strategy development

Text mining tools can also be used to identify relevant search terms that can be used in a search strategy.

Search Tips

Boolean Operators

Most literature databases, including PubMed, use Boolean Operators to combine search words. AND / OR are the most important.

AND is used to combine different concepts or themes, e.g. stem cells and ischemic heart disease

OR is used to connect related themes or synonymous words, e.g. therapy or treatment

Word Truncation

Use the asterisk/star ( * ) to truncate word ending. Truncation enables different forms of a word to be searched for simultaneously, and will increase the number of search results. For example therap* will search for:





Phrase Searching

To search for an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in quotation marks ("speech quotes"). For example, "ischemic heart disease" will retrieve records that contain these three words in that exact order. Use to double quotation marks to search for common phrases as well as multi-word technical terms.


Use parentheses (round brackets) to group compound Boolean statements together. Round brackets are usually used to enclose word combined wth the OR operator. For example,

"Stem cell*" and (therap* or treatment*)