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NURS 360: Group literature search assignment

This guide has been created to assist with one of the literature searching assignments for NURS 360. NOTE: This particular assignment may not be offered every year, or by every instructor.

Identifying key words

Before even jumping into a database to run a search, you should spend a few minutes examining the components of your clinical question as this will help you to identify which aspects are important enough to be included in a search. While you may be keen to start searching, spending this time up front will ultimately help improve your search outcomes.

Look at the wording of your clinical question and ask yourselves:

  • Is there a particular population your question is looking at? If yes, what is it? 
    • e.g. Seniors? Youth? Children? Adults? Is gender a factor? Or race or ethnicity?
  • If there is no population specifically mentioned in the question, is there a problem it's looking at? If yes, what is it?
    • e.g. alcohol consumption, fluoride in the water supply, etc...
  • Is there an intervention you are examining? If yes, what is it?  Is the intervention being compared to another intervention?
  • Is there an outcome you are seeking?  If yes, what is it?

You may not be able to answer all of these questions and that's okay.  It's just meant to guide you on things to focus when looking at your clinical question.

Once you've identified the key components of your question, write down the terms that best express what you're looking for.


What effect does music therapy have on the quality of life of elderly people with dementia? 

  • This question focuses on the elderly population with dementia. 
  • It's exploring the use of music therapy with this population.
  • It's looking to see if music therapy affects their quality of life.

Therefore, the main key words that would be useful for a search:

elderly, dementia, music therapy, quality of life

Identifying synonyms or similar terms

Discuss with your team members: Are there any other terms or synonyms that might also help you find information?

English is a complex language and it is often the case that researchers will write about the exact same thing using entirely different terms that have similar meaning (synonyms).  Because a literature search is supposed to be an exhaustive search of the literature, you want to think about all the ways you might see your topic expressed, and include those terms in your search as well. 

Note: If there are variant spellings of your topic words (e.g. UK vs US spellings) include those as well.

Why? The databases are not that smart and will only search for the actual terms you type into the search box.  For example, if you search for the word behaviour, you will not get results for the alternate spelling, behavior. If you want to search for these variations, you need to build both words into the search. You are the brains behind the search!

Using the example above, let's think of other ways to express elderly, dementia, music therapy, and quality of life

elderly elderly, old age, seniors, geriatric, aged
dementia dementia
music therapy music therapy
quality of life quality of life

**Don't worry if you can't think of synonyms for all your key words. Not every term will have a synonym.  Or, what tends to happen is that you'll start with an initial search, and as you review your search results you may uncover additional terms you didn't think of, and you can always go back and incorporate those into your search.

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