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Example PICO(T) question

For this session, we will be working with the following research question:

Does introducing Nordic hamstring exercises reduce hamstring injuries among athletes when compared to regular training programs?

Before you start searching, it is helpful to us the PICO(T) or PS tool to help identify the key aspects of your question. Consider as well if there are any possible synonyms/related terms for each aspect of your question.

Population (P)


Intervention/Exposure (I/E)

Nordic hamstring exercises

Comparison (C) Regular training program
Outcome (O)

Reduce rate of hamstring injuries

Source: Van Dyk, N., Behan, F. P., & Whiteley, R. (2019). Including the Nordic hamstring exercise in injury prevention programmes halves the rate of hamstring injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 8459 athletes. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. Advance online publication.

Search techniques

Search different spellings and plural/singular

An asterisk (*) or truncation symbols means I don't care how it ends  e.g. behav*

  • In this example, the database would search "behavior" and "behaviour" in both their singular and plural forms

Search phrases

Use quotation marks " " to search for a particular phrase  e.g. "cognitive dissonance"

Proximity searching

Proximity searching lets you search for two words near each other e.g. ankle N2 sprain* will look for those words within two words of each other in any order

Using AND/OR

Avoid typing sentences into the search box. Always use AND or OR between different ideas:

  • AND (if you want all the words to appear in your search results) e.g. "cognitive dissonance" AND shopping
  • OR (if you don't care which word shows up) e.g. college OR university

Subject headings vs keywords

Keywords Subject terms

Natural language words that describe your topic

Pro: Easy to combine terms

Pro: Can search for them anywhere in the source

Con: Can be difficult to narrow results

Con: Might retrieve irrelevant results

Pre-defined vocabulary that describes your topic

Pro: Can quickly rule out irrelevant sources

Pro: Often retrieves more accurate results

Con: Harder to combine terms (need to know which terms exist)

You can improve your search results by combining the keywords you brainstorm with the subject headings each database uses to categorize articles. These headings or tags are added to articles to make them easier to find and group.

In PsycINFO, the subject headings are called APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms

In Medline/PubMed, the subject headings are called MESH

In CINAHL, the subject headings are called CINAHL headings

In SportDiscus, the subject headings can be found in the Thesaurus.

Strategy 1: Carefully review the references of relevant articles you've found

Rubio, C., Osca, A., Recio, P., Urien, B., & Peiró, J. M. (2015). Work-family conflict, self-efficacy, and emotional exhaustion: A test of longitudinal effects. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 31(3), 147–154.

Strategy 2: Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find out who cited the articles you've found

Google Scholar


Mining citations

One of the most useful features of Google Scholar is the ability to search for articles that have cited a particular work. It is a great way to see where the scholarly conversation has gone since an article was released.

Building a search, piece by piece

For a thorough search, it is important to combine a database's subject headings with possible keywords. There can be a delay in adding subject headings to new articles, and this ensures they are not missed in your results. In systematic reviews, we often search each term separately before combined them with OR (between synonyms/related terms) and AND (to combine different concepts). Below is an example of a line by line search using Medline - to construct a search this way, click on "search history" in Medline, Sport Discus, or CINAHL.

Some suggested databases

Free databases and tools

What isn't in Medline and CINAHL - Searching for grey literature

Grey literature includes government documents, theses and dissertations, policies, clinical practice guidelines, and more, and can be difficult to find because it is not usually listed in databases like CINAHL and Medline.

Here are some sources of grey literature that might be useful for future assignments:

How to I organize my sources?

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Erik Christiansen

Phone: 403.440.5168
Office: EL4423D
Website Skype Contact: egchrist