The key to a successful database literature search is ensuring that you're asking a clearly defined, answerable question. This will make it easier to break down your question into search topics that can then be combined to produce a search strategy.
If your topic is too broad (for example "nursing management" or "cystic fibrosis") then your set of results will be too large to be of use. In these cases a textbook which presents a broad overview of a topic might be the best place to start and to help you identify some more specific questions.
Mnemonics for identifying the elements for a clinical question include:
PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) - this can be useful for structuring therapy questions. Not all elements need to be present, for example there may be no comparison or you may not yet have identified all possible outcomes.
ECLIPSE (Expectation, Client group, Location, Impact, Professionals Service) - for health service management questions.
Some people find such mnemonics useful to ensure that all the relevent elements that they're interested in are included in the question but they are entirely optional. More can be found using the links below.
Some useful links on formulating answerable questions:
- Centre for Evidence Based Medicine. Asking focused questions.
- Physiopedia. Formulate an answerable question.
- LaTrobe University. Formulate your question.
- Flemming, K (1998). Asking answerable questions. Evidence Based Nursing. 1(2)
- Richardson, WS et al (1995). The well-built clinical question: a key to evidence-based decisions. ACP Journal Club. 123:A12
- Leeds Institute of Health Sciences. PICO and other tools for developing research questions and search concepts.