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Developing your Research/Topic Question

Research always starts with a question.  But the success of your research also depends on how you formulate that question.  If your topic is too broad or too narrow, you may have trouble finding information when you search. When developing your question/topic, consider the following:

  • Is my question one that is likely to have been researched and for which data have been published?  Believe it or not, not every topic has been researched and/or published in the literature.
  • Be flexible.  Consider broadening or narrowing the topic if you are getting a limited number or an overwhelming number of results when you search. In nursing it can be helpful to narrow by thinking about a specific population (gender, age, disease or condition, etc.), intervention, or outcome.
  • Discuss your topic with your professor and be willing to alter your topic according to the guidance you receive.
  • Watch the video below for more information about developing a topic

Keyword Searching

You will get better results in a database, such as CINAHL, by using effective keyword search strategies.

To develop an effective search strategy, you need to:

  1. determine the key concepts in your topic, which are usually nouns, and
  2. develop a good list of keyword synonyms.

For example, TRY:

high blood pressure  AND hypertension

therapy AND treatment

If you are having trouble thinking of synonyms, check a thesaurus, dictionary, or reference book for ideas.


Keyword Search Tips

  • Child*: Finds child, children, childhood, etc.
  • *natal:  Finds prenatal, antenatal, postnatal, etc.

  • Quotation marks:  Finds phrases e.g. “acute pain” or "high blood pressure"
  • Plurals: Are found automatically, e.g. hand finds hand or hands

When 2 or more words are entered in a search box, they must appear within 5 words of one another in the article.  Enter words in separate boxes to retrieve a larger selection of articles.  Click Add Row to add additional search boxes.

 Use  Subject headings to locate additional or more specific search terms. 

Boolean Operators

To help you with keyword searching, use the Boolean Operators:


This link to a short video (under 3 minutes) explains how to do this with remarkable results! It is from the John M. Pfau Library, CSUSB.

Using Boolean Operators

Below are links to two worksheets that will help you turn your topic into a successful keyword search, using Boolean operators. Use these to search in library databases and even Google!

Popular Magazine vs. Scholarly Journal

Kirkwood Guides

These other guides, created by Kirkwood librarians, will provide more help in "how to" do a research project .

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