Skip to Main Content

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN)

This guide contains helpful information for those students enrolled in the RN-BSN Program at Goodwin University


Finding information in our databases means that you need to do a good job picking the keywords and phrases that you want to search.

Begin by framing your question. Write it down. Take that question and pull out the important nouns to help you find the right search terms. You need to select search terms that are searchable!

Searching in the Databases

As a starting place, just looking at the nouns in your question works well with many research papers, but nursing research is different and necessitates a more focused method of keyword selection. Usually medical research involves a clinical inquiry about a health care intervention that promotes healing and/or well-being for a patient. To articulate a clinical inquiry use the PICO method to determine which words and phrases you can use as search:

P-person: Who is the patient or population that the inquiry surrounds? Infants, college students, and palliative care patients, are good examples of describing a population with just one word or phrase. Or try to pick a characteristic of the patient that is distinctive, such as having a specific condition.

I- intervention or indicator: What type intervention or process is being considered to help the patient? Or, if more applicable, is there an indicator that measures the patient’s progress, such as blood pressure or weight?

C-comparison: Is there an alternative treatment that can be used as a comparison? Can a placebo be compared, or is there a standard treatment that you can use as a benchmark against the intervention that you are proposing?

O-outcome: What is the effect of the desired outcome? Specifically stating what you hope to achieve may more accurately focus the search for evidence in literature. For example, “quality improvement” or “recovery of function” describe positive outcomes.

Just as it helps to write out your research question, it helps to physically write out your PICO terms and phrases so that you can easily return to them later.

Identifying your PICO terms and phrases doesn’t mean that you are going to plug in every term into one search. Rather, take these terms and try using them in different combinations. If you get too hung up on one particular search term you may be limiting yourself! Flexibility and experimentation with different search terms enables you not only to see more of what is available in the database but it also helps you to think about the whole question.