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Physician Assistant Studies

Academic resources that support research, teaching, and learning in the field of physician assistant studies.

What's On This Page?

On this page you'll find some helpful tips and tricks to effectively search for articles, as well as some subject-specific search strategies for Physician Assistant Studies.

Basic Searching: Keywords and Boolean Connectors

Keywords: Overview

Some form of a keyword search is the way most of us look for scholarly articles in database. It is a great approach! Make sure you are familiar with these librarian strategies to get the most out of your searches.

Figuring out the best keywords for your research topic/question is a process. You will start with one or a few words. Then you will adjust them as you start finding sources that describe the topic using other words.You can shift, adapt, and expand your search. Your words bridge between known topics and the unknowns of your research question. Sometimes one specific word will be enough. Sometimes you will need several different words to describe a concept AND you will need to connect that concept to another concept.

Boolean Connectors

Boolean Connector Purpose
AND finds the overlap between two concepts. It gives things that match both concepts.


Connects different concepts (keywords).

Narrows down the number of results.

OR is additive and gives anything that matches any of your terms


Connects synonyms.

Expands the number of results.

NOT is subtractive. It removes one concept from another.


Excludes a concept.

Use with extreme caution (even librarians don't use this one much).

Connect Keywords Using Boolean: Examples

OR: Connects Similar Concepts 

It expands the number of results on the topic.

Examples Topics of Interest  Search terms connected by OR naproxen
Over the counter pain relievers acetaminophen OR ibuprofen OR naproxen
Symptoms of depression in teens teens OR adolescents
Treatments for asthma in toddlers nebulizer OR inhaler

AND: Connects Different Concepts

It narrows down the number of results.

Example Topics of Interest Search terms connected by AND
Pregnancy outcomes for women in rural areas of the United States pregnancy AND outcomes AND  rural AND United States
Is it possible for an adult to have a greenstick fracture? adult AND greenstick fracture

NOT: Excludes a Concept 

Use with extreme caution.

Example Topic of Interest Search terms connected by NOT
Onset of type one diabetes in children type one diabetes NOT adult
External tinnitus management options  tinnitus management NOT in ear tinnitus masker

Basic Searching: Truncation, Phrase Searching, and Controlled Vocabulary

Make the Database Work More


...uses the asterisk (*) to end a word at its core, allowing you to retrieve many more documents containing variations of the search term.  Example: educat* will find educate, educates, education, educators, educating and more.


Phrase Searching when you put quotations marks around two or more words, so that the database looks for those words in that exact order. Examples: "higher education," "public health" and "pharmaceutical industry."


Controlled Vocabulary

...uses the database's own terms to describe what each article is about. Searching using controlled vocabularies is a great way to get at everything on a topic in a database.

Basic Searching: Useful Parts of a Good Article

Once you know you have a good article, there are a lot of useful parts to it - far beyond the content.

Useful Part Explanation
Keywords Check the author-generated keywords, the database subject headings, the title, abstract and introduction for words that may be great additional/alternative search terms. You don't have to know everything about a topic before you start searching. Let what you find introduce you to the language of the field.
Author(s) If they have written one article on this topic, they may have written more. Click on the authors' names to find what else they have in the database. Or use their names (individually) as a search term elsewhere.
Journal They may have published other articles on your topic. Sometimes a special issue will focus on a single topic. Consider browsing or searching within a specific publication. Oftentimes you'll end up searching in the journal's website.
Instruments Authors might have already created and validated an instrument (survey, tests, and measures). Consider if you can use/adapt it for your own work. Check for details in the methods section, an original citation in the reference, and/or a copy in the appendix.
References Experts on this topic have gathered and evaluated these sources. Check them for potential sources for your own work.

Check for useful tools in the database or search engine:

  • Cited By: Use these links and buttons to find newer sources that have used your source as a reference.
  • Similar Articles, Related Articles, You might also like..., and other similar tools: Use these links and buttons to find sources that may be about the same topic.

Advanced Searching: PICO Framework (Optional)

The Basics

The PICO framework helps you think about what you want to know. It breaks your question into four parts:


  • Stands for the Patient, Population, or Problem. (Who or what are you studying?)
  • Could include things like: preexisting health conditions, age group, biological sex, ethnicity, geographic location.
  • You may have more than one idea as part of your P. Only focus on the most important one(s).
  • Example: Infants with eczema


  • Stands for the Intervention OR Exposure. (What did you or something else do to them?)
  • Could include a medication, a procedure, a training session, a chemical accident, a natural disaster, etc.
  • Choose a single intervention. (Your intervention could have multiple parts.)
  • Example: probiotics


  • Stands for Comparison or Control. (What else could you have done? What else could they have been exposed to?)
  • Could include a different medication, a different procedure, the standard of care, a placebo, or nothing.)
  • Choose a single comparison. (Your comparison could have multiple parts).
  • Example: topical steroids


  • Stands for Outcome. (What result do you expect from your intervention?)
  • Could be something positive (such as a reduction of symptoms) or something negative (such as increased risk of a side effect).
  • Be specific.
  • Discuss with your patient to identify the outcome(s) that matter most.
  • Example: rash reduction

Use those parts to structure your question. For instance, you could ask "In <Population>, what is the effect of <Intervention> compared to <Comparison> on <Outcome>. Example: In infants with eczema, what is the effect of probiotics compared to topical steroids on rash reduction?

You can use AND to combine those parts in your search. Usually, you will only need to include two or three parts in your actual search.

Example Search:

infants and eczema and probiotics and topic steroids


Some people also add one or more additional parts:

T: Time. (What is the duration of the study?)

T: Type of Question. (Do you want to know about therapy, diagnosis, etiology, or something else?)

S: Setting. (Where does the intervention take place?)

S: Study Design. (What kind of study would help you answer this question?)

Other Frameworks

PICO is a common framework. Other frameworks, such as SPICE or PEO will be more appropriate for some topics.

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