Literature Searching

Identify Primary Concepts

Identifying your search concepts is important to determine which key components you need to include in your search to return relevant results. Concepts are easier to identify once the research question has been formulated using PICO, PICO(T), or another question formulation framework from Step 1. 

It is not necessary to include all the elements of PICO(T) in your search strategy. Note, outcomes are generally not included as search concepts, but instead are scanned for in the results. 

Example: "Are mobile health technology interventions more effective in managing patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes than in-person care?"

Concept A Patient/Problem/Population patients with diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2
Concept B Intervention mobile health technology
Concept C Comparison in-person care
Not included Outcome effectiveness in managing diabetes

Search concepts: 

Gather Synonymes

Researchers use different terms to express the same concepts. To increase the sensitivity (e.g. comprehensiveness) of your search, it is important to gather synonyms and terms that authors might use to describe your concepts.

Types of synonyms to consider for your search strategy: 

  • Terms have different spellings, plural forms, acronyms 
  • Concepts are described inconsistently across time and geographies
  • Terms have the same/close meaning, disciplinary jargon
  • Umbrella terms vs specific names
  • Author keywords and database subject headings (i.e., MeSH)


diabetes mobile health technology in-person care

diabetes mellitus

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes 



mobile health apps

smartphone health apps

in-person visits

in-person encounters

in-person site visits

in-person outpatient care