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Nursing resources and subject guides for faculty and students

Growing Pearls

An easy way to start your search is the find one or two relevant articles and use these to see what keywords you might use to find others like them.

You can also look to see how these articles are indexed. To do this, search for one of the articles by title in the database you wish to search. View the full record to see what subject headings have been assigned and add these subject headings to your search.

Librarians call this "pearl growing".

Google Scholar or Scopus are good places to start growing pearls, but you can do this in any database that uses subject headings.

Tip for building your Medline search:

In Google Scholar, view all versions of the relevant article you have found and view the version that has the link "". This will bring you to Pubmed, where you can click on "MeSH terms" to see what subject headings were used in Medline.

Refining Your Search

* Remember that the process is iterative. If your search results are not relevant, revise your search! Most searches will require revision.
  • If your results are off topic:
    • Try growing pearls: if you found one or two relevant articles, see what subject headings and keywords are being used and add these.
  • If you have too many results:
    • Add additional concepts or subject headings (also called controlled vocabulary or controlled terms) and combine with AND (the more concepts you have the more specific your search)
      e.g. minor depression AND self care AND written materials.

      To get new ideas for subject headings in Ovid-Medline and Cinahl, type in your keywords and make sure the "suggest subject headings" box is ticked. Select from the list of suggested terms (add these one at a time onto a separate line of your search).
    • Select one or more of the database's limit types
      e.g. publication type, language, publication date
    • Search for words only in a particular field
      e.g. self care in title only
  • If you have too few results
    • Remove a less important concept (the fewer concepts you have the more sensitive your search)
      e.g. minor depression AND self care (remove written materials)
    • Use a broader subject heading
      e.g. depression instead of minor depression
    • Use truncation to allow the terms to end in various ways
      e.g. written material* (this will find both written material AND written materials)
    • Add synonyms or similar concepts, combining them with OR to generate more results
      e.g. minor depression AND self care AND (written materials OR patient education)

Contact the nursing liaison librarian

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Sabine Calleja
Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering
Subjects: Nursing

Quick links to popular tools

Search strategy worksheet:
Combined evidence pyramid:
Nursing model at McGill:

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