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Searching skills

Approach to searching

Searching for information falls generally into two categories:

  • Rapid searching for the best evidence is a suitable approach when looking for information to answer a clinical question, such as in a professional practice setting.
  • In-depth searching for all information is useful when trying to understand or describe a complex topic, such as for a literature review. 

Hierarchy of evidence

The 6S Pyramid is useful for understanding how sources of information are evaluated in relation to one another. Sources from the higher levels of the pyramid are built from sources at lower levels.

Except for the individual studies (contained within the lowest level of the pyramid), information sources at the higher levels of the pyramid have been critically appraised in some way.

Note: There is a hierarchy of study designs within the studies layer, which is not shown in this pyramid. 

Figure adapted from: Dicenso, A., Bayley, L., & Haynes, R. (2009). Accessing pre-appraised evidence: Fine-tuning the 5S model into a 6S model. Evidence Based Nursing, 12(4), 99.

Search techniques

Rapid searching

  • When searching for the best evidence, look for the most synthesised information available. Start searching the clinical resources (also known as point-of-care tools) at the top of the evidence pyramid. If nothing suitable is found, continue searching down the pyramid, e.g. look for a clinical guideline, a synopsis, a systematic review, or an individual study. To use individual studies as evidence, identify the most appropriate study design for the type of question (intervention, diagnosis, etc.). Appraise systematic reviews and studies for quality.
    Use the rapid searching page within this guide for guidance on creating a search string.

In-depth searching

  • When searching for all information on a topic, the searching is typically carried out in the 'studies' layer of the pyramid. Studies are usually published as journal articles, and searching is carried out in the journal databases.
    Use the in-depth searching page within this guide for information on creating a search string.
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