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Nursing Research Guide: Getting Started on Nursing Research

This research guide features resources and strategies for finding information and conducting research related to Nursing.

Top Resource: Using PubMed in Evidence-Based Practice

Using PubMed in Evidence-Based Practice was created to help clinicians including nurses and allied health professionals develop a clinical question using the PICO framework and efficiently find relevant biomedical literature using PubMed. The tutorial was designed to be completed in less than 30 minutes. This tutorial replaces the NLM PubMed for Nurses tutorial.

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Accurately and precisely describe your clinical question using PICO (patient/problem, intervention, comparison, outcome)
  • Convert your research question into search terms for PubMed
  • Check that medical terms in your search map to Medical Subject Headings
  • Use appropriate filters to refine your search results set
  • Use Clinical Queries to limit results to clinically relevant literature
  • Find full text linked from PubMed
  • Identify your library as a source for full-text articles
  • Find the “My NCBI” link and recognize that as a place to store searches and citations
  • Identify your librarian as a source for search assistance
  • Find the PubMed Online Training page and specific tutorials relevant to continuing your training

Steps to Effective Nursing Research:

Step 1. Go through the free National Library of Medicine’s training, Using PubMed in Evidence-Based Practice.

Identify an Information Need

Step 2. Develop a clinical question using the PICO framework.

  1. patient/problem,
  2. intervention,
  3. comparison,
  4. outcome.

The PICO framework helps you accurately and precisely describe your clinical question.

Find and Evaluate Information

Step 3. Convert your clinical question into *search terms for PubMed. PubMed is the National Library of Medicine’s index of biomedical literature citations and abstracts from MEDLINE, PubMed Central, and life science journals. By accessing PubMed through the library’s website you ensure that all full-text options are available to you.

Step 4. After running your search, go into the Advanced option, and verify that your entered term mapped to suitable MeSH headings for your research. To identify the search terms, go into the Advanced option, then to the History and Search Details, then to the search you ran, and then select the right-facing carrot under Details

If your term is mapped to something unexpected, try your search again using a synonym. For instance, if you search on fleshy mass and don’t see an appropriate MeSH, try again searching on synonyms, such as tumor or cyst.

Identify and note the MeSH terms that are most relevant to your research question. 

To see the narrower search terms that PubMed also included in your search, return to the PubMed homepage and select “MeSH database” under Explore. Retrieve the MeSH term you identified above and scroll to the bottom to see the tree hierarchy. Each MeSH term under your term was searched in PubMed. These additional search terms may help you to narrow or expand your search.

Step 5a. Return to your PubMed results and apply filters and qualifiers to narrow down your topic to meet your specific clinical question. Filters are located on the lefthand border under ‘My NCBI Filters’.

Step 5b. Or if you want to immediately filter out anything that is not a Clinical Query, you can return to the PubMed home screen and select Clinical Queries to limit results to clinically relevant literature. This tool uses predefined filters to help you quickly refine PubMed searches on clinical or disease-specific topics.

  1. Enter your search terms in the search box.
  2. Select Clinical Studies (or COVID-19 if your research is related to COVID-19)
  3. Filter
    1. Therapy
    2. Diagnosis
    3. Etiology
    4. Prognosis
    5. Clinical Prediction Guides
  4. Scope
    1. Narrow
    2. Broad

Details/definitions of these filters:

This search tool returns the top 5 search results. If these are on-point, select the See all results in PubMed where additional clinically relevant results and filters are available.

Assess Information

Step 6. Now what? Next steps: evaluate your sources, identify any potential ethical issues with using the information, form a thesis statement (best practices in the community), and identify your supporting evidence from your sources.


Step 7. Start the writing process.

The Liberty University Writing Center specializes in the writing, formatting, and editing process. If you need assistance with a particular citation style, or if you want someone to review your essay, please reach out to the Writing Center.  The Writing Center provides services for both residential and online students. 

How to do a Literature Review

Search Terms / Filters

Step 3. Notes on PubMed search terms.

*Don’t be overly concerned about learning the precise medical subject heading terms when searching PubMed. In addition to searching your terms, PubMed automatically performs term mapping, which takes all non-MeSH (medical subject headings) terms, such as bruising, and maps your term to its Medical Subject Heading (MeSH), contusions. Additionally, PubMed searches all narrower terms under the MeSH term hierarchy, including (for bruising) Brain Contusion, Myocardial Contusions, and Commotio Cordis. Most of the content in PubMed is indexed with MeSH terms, as it comes from MEDLINE. However, PubMed also includes many resources that are not in MEDLINE, so you should use your search terms to get a comprehensive picture of the literature.

Step 5a. Notes on PubMed filters and qualifiers.


  • article attribute
    • Associated data
  • article type
    • Books and Documents Address
    • Clinical Trial Autobiography
    • Meta-Analysis
    • Randomized Controlled Trial
    • Review
    • Systematic Review

  • ADDITIONAL FILTERS are also available for: species, article language, sex, age, other.

Once you select the ADDITIONAL FILTERS to add to your NCBI Filters, you must select those filters from the available ‘My NCBI Filters’ displayed.