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Nursing 561

Identifying Search Terms

Once you have your PICOT question built, you can identify the main points; often these will be your primary search terms. But you might want to include synonyms or alternative search terms to broaden your search and get more results. For the most comprehensive search, we recommend using a combination of keywords and subject headings (such as MeSH or CINAHL Subject Headings).

For example, if you were searching for ED patients, you might use the term Emergency Department. But you could also search Emergency Room. If you are searching CINAHL, the CINAHL subject heading for emergency departments is Emergency Service; for Pubmed, the MESH term is Emergency Service, Hospital. If you are searching multiple terms to get at the same concept, use OR between your synonyms.

So if you were searching CINAHL, you could search: 

MH "Emergency Service" OR "emergency room" OR "emergency department"

If you were searching Pubmed, your search could be:

"Emergency Service, Hospital"[Mesh] OR "emergency room" OR "emergency department"

You can do this for each PICOT concept you are using. Again, each PICOT concept should be connected using the Boolean Operator AND, while alternative search terms / synonyms are separated with an OR. If you are creating one long search string (rather than entering each PICOT component on a separate search line), make sure to nestle your concepts using parenthesis:

("Emergency Service, Hospital"[Mesh] OR "emergency room" OR "emergency department") AND ("Patient Compliance"[Mesh] OR adherence OR compliance)

A detailed example of how to brainstorm alternative search terms and create a search string is listed below.



Does telemonitoring blood pressure in patients with hypertension improve blood pressure control within one year of initiation of the medication?

Does telemonitoring blood pressure (I) in patients with hypertension (P) improve blood pressure control (O) within one year of initiation of the medication (T)?


  Main concept Potential keywords Boolean search using combined terms


Patient or Problem


  • high blood pressure
  • hypertensive
  • MeSH = hypertension

(hypertension OR hypertensive OR high blood pressure))


Intervention or Indicator

telemonitoring blood pressure
  • telemonitor
  • MeSH = "Blood Pressure Monitoring, Ambulatory"



"Blood Pressure Monitoring, Ambulatory"[Mesh]


Comparison or Control






improve blood pressure control
  • MeSH = "blood pressure"
(blood pressure OR arterial pressure)



within one year
  • one year
  • twelve months
(one year OR twelve months)


(hypertension OR hypertensive OR high blood pressure) AND telemonitor AND ("Blood Pressure Monitoring, Ambulatory"[Mesh] OR (monitor AND blood pressure)) AND (one year OR twelve months)

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