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Evidence Based Practice (NUR 4169)

Finding Controlled Vocabulary

Controlled vocabulary codes are unique to a database.

  • MeSH for PubMed
  • MH for CINAHL
  • SU.EXACT for PsycINFO

These search strategies are on the same topic, but each search is unique to the database.

  • PubMed - "Spouse Abuse"[Mesh] AND "Self-Help Groups"[Mesh]
  • CINAHL - (MH "Intimate Partner Violence") AND (MH "Support Groups")
  • PsychINFO - SU.EXACT("Partner Abuse") AND SU.EXACT("Support Groups")

Most Races have a controlled vocabulary term, but they are not always the same term

  • PubMed - "African Americans"[Mesh]
  • CINAHL - (MH "Blacks")

Not every word has a controlled vocabulary term. If you cannot find a matching controlled vocabulary term search the concept as keywords placing phrases in between quotation marks.

  • “end-tidal carbon dioxide”

by: Kat Phillips, Penn State University 

Translate your PICO Question into a Search Strategy

Searching for Pharmaceuticals

Remember to use the drug name for pharmaceuticals with the brand name. Brand names are not always used in research articles.

  • (adalimumab OR humira)
  • (acetaminophen OR Tylenol)
  • (cetirizine OR Zyrtec)

Avoid Abbreviations

EtCO2 may mean end-tidal carbon dioxide to you, but it could be something else in a different field.  Instead of searching only the abbreviation type out the terms and place them in between quotation marks, then include the abbreviation using an OR and surround the terms with parentheses.

  • (“end-tidal carbon dioxide” OR “EtCO2”)
  • ("Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease" or "COPD")
  • ("Acute Ischemic Stroke" OR "AIS")

Ignore Time in PICOT

To search for time it is more useful to use controlled vocabulary such as:


  • "Preoperative Period"[Mesh]
  • "Postoperative Period"[Mesh]


  • (MH "Postoperative Period")
  • (MH "Preoperative Period")

Searching phrases like "9 months" or "3 years" in a database is not helpful.

by: Kat Phillips, Penn State University