Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

John Moritz Library @ NMC: Searching for Sources

Step 1: Pick a Topic

Getting Started

Before you can begin a search, you need to think about your assignment and your research topic. First, answer these questions about your assignment:

1. What type of research assignment is it?

  • Argumentative/persuasive essay
  • Comparison of treatment options
  • Analysis of a current theory

2. How many pages are required?

  • A broad topic will be too much for 3-4 pages
  • A very narrow topic might not have enough research for a 10-page paper

3. What type of sources are required?

  • Academic journals
  • Peer-reviewed articles
  • News or current events
  • Websites
  • Government documents or statistical data

4. Are topic suggestions supplied by your instructor?

  • Google the topic
  • Look for headlines or phrases that could be a subtopic
  • Google the subtopic, make notes

Now, within the context of your assignment, you need to brainstorm a topic. This is great time to use Google or Wikipedia. If you only have a broad topic in mind, such as “diabetes” you will quickly become overwhelmed in your research. Such a broad topic is not appropriate for a 5-page paper. You want to develop a topic that is narrow enough to give you direction and boundaries, but broad enough that you can find appropriate sources.

The goal of your brainstorming session is to develop a research statement or question to guide you through the research process.


As you search for topic ideas, you can use some of these tools:


List can be a great way to simultaneously narrow a broad topic and create potential keywords for searching.

For example, start with a basic or broad topic: nurse burnout. Then jot down everything that pops into your head (or catches your eye online) about burnout, stress, retention versus attrition, etc.

You can also create a list of opposites. This is a great strategy for argumentative essays, as you will need to explore multiple viewpoints.

nurse burnout



compassion fatigue

staff shortages

shift work




mental health



Another popular form of brainstorming is mapping. Start with your general topic in the center. Then, as you begin to brainstorm, branch off into different clusters or subtopics. There are many free mapping tools online, or you can use paper and pencil.

Make a Statement

Now it’s time put it together! You can write this as a thesis statement or a research question. Ask yourself, what do you seek to know and why? Try out different questions and then ask yourself questions about the question.

  • Is this question clear?
  • Is my question focused? Is it too focused?
  • Is it complex?
  • Can this be answered with a yes or no?
  • Would the answer be an opinion rather than backed by factual evidence?

How can you prevent nurse burnout?

Too broad. Open-ended questions can be a good start for brainstorming. Googling this question will take you down many paths, but most notably you'll need to answer this: Who is doing the prevention - the employer or the nurse? That will dictate the methods of prevention, such as lowering staff levels (employer) versus using meditation (nurse). 

Yikes! But the good news is, in asking these questions, you may have stumbled onto your focused topic! You might consider comparing two different approaches to coping with stress, perhaps group support versus individual self-care, or physical activity versus meditation. Comparing interventions can give you focus.

New Question:

For nurses experiencing signs of burnout, which is more effective at improving stress levels: spiritual or mindfulness coping strategies or physical recreational activities?


Note: Your initial search question does not need to be this complex at the start. It may also change as you learn more about your topic. 

Step 2: Create Search Terms

Now that you have a research topic, you’re ready to create your search terms! You might be tempted to type your research question into a database -


Databases use keywords and subject terms to find articles. Phrases and sentences will not yield relevant results. Instead, focus on the the most important words in your research statement.

For nurses experiencing signs of burnout, which is more effective at improving stress levels: spiritual or mindfulness coping strategies or physical recreational activities?

Next, you will need to find synonyms (similar terms). Because some people say “soda” and others say “pop,” your first choice of keywords may not yield the best results. Grab your thesaurus or Google and start jotting down terms in groups. Consult a medical thesaurus to learn the language of your profession. If you are writing an argumentative essay, you should also create an “opposing” side or antonyms.



healthcare workers


compassion fatigue

work-related chronic stress

coping strategies







physical activity

recreational activity





walking / hiking


Here are some additional non-NMC videos.

Boolean Operators help you focus your database searches, so you can find relevant articles faster. The operators include AND, OR, and NOT.



Use AND to narrow a search. This combines two or more terms and tells the database to find only articles that contain ALL of these terms. You are combining CONCEPTS to show a relationship. Each time you add AND + another term, you will continue to narrow your search.

nurse burnout AND prevention 

nurse burnout AND prevention AND meditation



Use OR to expand a search. Here you will use synonyms and then tell the database to find articles containing EITHER of these terms.

burnout OR compassion fatigue

physical activity OR exercise



You can use a combination of AND and OR segments to layer your search. Use the database’s advanced search functions to keep your combinations grouped together, or group with parenthesis.

To find articles about using physical activity to reduce the effects of burnout, you might use these terms:

nurse burnout AND coping strategies AND (exercise OR recreation)

Use advanced database search boxes in place of your brackets/parentheses. Remember, keep each concept to its own box.

This search tells the database to look for articles about equine therapy to treat PTSD OR articles about using adaptive riding to treat PTSD. The database performs two searches and pools the results into one set for you.



Use NOT to eliminate a term from your search results. Caution! This may eliminate good articles. It is not commonly used, but can be helpful in certain instances:

android NOT robots

apple NOT computer system

Organizing your search terms in a table or box format is an easy way to translate "a bunch of words" into a search. Each concept gets its own box on your brainstorming paper and in the database. 

Use AND to combine different boxes/concepts.

Use OR to use terms within a box.

Ready to advance to search skills? There is more beyond Boolean terms to expand or narrow your search results.

Text Searching vs Subject Headings

"Googling" has trained us to just throw words into the search engine, and databases now offer the ability to search the full text of articles, abstracts, and metadata to match the terms of your search. However, most still use controlled language system, such as Medical Subject Headings, for more precise searching specialized subject areas. Think of each subject heading as a digging within a specialized, carefully curated sandbox for your treasure rather than searching all the deserts and beaches in the world.

Example: "burnout" could apply to these MeSH subject headings:

  • Burnout, Psychological
  • Burnout, Professional
  • Caregiver Burden

Each heading will view the subject in a different way or from a different discipline.


Sometimes a word will have various forms or ending. Rather putting each variant into your search box with an OR in between each, you can use an asterick after the root word. The database will search for every variation.

  • Ex: account* will search for account, accountant, accounting ...
  • Ex: strat* will search for strategy, strategize, strategies, strategic ...


"Phrase searching"

Sometimes you need a precise phrase that is not a subject heading, but the words within the phrase might be commonly found in close proximity to one another and you need them exactly together. For example, perhaps you are looking for a specific scale or tool like the Perceived Stress Scale. If you simple enter perceived stress scale into your search, you will find some articles mentioning the PSS, but you will also sift through articles containing other stress scales and the word perceived is also found in the text.

Use quotation marks "" around the phrase to tell the database you want this exact phrase:

"Perceived Stress Scale"


Step 3: Search in the Databases

Although different databases contain a variety of search filters and content, the general approach to searching is the same.

  • Use keywords or subject terms - not sentences or phrases
  • Be flexible! Finding the right keyword combination takes experimentation
  • Use the advanced search option for better control
  • Use the date range or publication date, if your assignment has date restrictions
  • Click the Peer-Reviewed or Scholarly Journals box if your assignment requires
Journal Finder Tool

Sometimes you will click on an article title only to discover the database does not carry a full-text copy. Look for the Check availability in JournalFinder link next to the abstract. This means we carry the full-text through another vendor - and JournalFinder is essentially your bridge to get there. Watch the video below to learn more. 

Many of our databases contain full-text articles, but they also contain abstracts for articles available in other databases, in print, or available through Interlibrary Loan. Here’s how you can tell the difference:

A scan of the article is available for PDF download.

The full text may be available in another database. Clicking this link will take you to the journal directory page, where you can see the date ranges and databases at JML. Click on the appropriate Journal-Database-Date combination to get to the article.

The article is not available in JML databases. You can click the link to begin a request to borrow the article from another library. It will be delivered to your email. Watch this video on ILL.

What are Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) publications?

  • Blind Peer Reviewed - (or Double Blind Peer Reviewed) - Articles appearing in a journal are sent outside of the journal's publishing or sponsoring organization for review by external reviewer(s), whereby the either author's identity or the reviewers' identity is unknown.

  • Editorial Board Peer Review - articles appearing in a journal are reviewed by an internal board of editors, not solely by one editor. The author's identity may be known or unknown.

  • Expert Peer Review - articles appearing in a journal are reviewed by experts (either internal or external to the journal) whose credentials are known and who are experts within the subject matter of the article under review. The author's identity may be known or unknown.

Many of EBSCOhost databases have peer reviewed titles, there will be a limiter that can be set to appear on the search screen. To view a complete list of the all journal indexed in the Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health  click here -> CINAHL


Google Scholar

Google Scholar

Google Scholar can be configured to search for links across our many subscription journals and databases. It also searches journal publisher websites, academic and research repositories, and open access journals. This allows you to find additional items that might not be in our own subscriptions, which may, or may not, show full-text access. Caveat: It also will include dissertations, student papers, and preprint papers - which are generally inappropriate for your assignments -- search with caution!

Here's a quick, easy video showing how to link Google Scholar to NMC's subscription journals and databases:

Watch this video for a more in-depth look at Google Scholar.