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Information Literacy Tutorial

Informatics Literacy for Medical Students

Information Literacy: Intermediate Level Module Objectives

The ability to use information technology to access medical information is an essential skill. 

This module will provide tutorials to address this needed skill. 

Outcomes for the Intermediate module:

1. Students will be understand the components of a well formed clinical research question. 

2. Students will be able to identify various types of search techniques.

3. Students will demonstrate the ability to perform an advanced search within a medical database using the components of a clinical research question.


How to construct a clinical question

The PICO Model

The keywords used to develop a successful search are derived from a PICO formatted research question. 

The PICO Model helps to define the parameters of a research question clearly by outlining the categories that should be the primary focus.

PICO stands for: Patient/Population/Problem, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcome

Example PICO research question: 

In older adults, hospitalized with pneumonia, is manual osteopathic treatment effective in reducing acute length of stay?

P Patient/Population Older adults with pneumonia
I Intervention Manual therapy
C Control No manual therapy
O Outcome Reduce length of stay

VideoExample of a PICO Search 

VideoFormulating a Research Question

Article: Asking the Right Question: Specifying Your Study Question

Additional clinical question frameworks: 

PEO = Population, Exposure, Outcome

PIE = Population, Intervention, Effect

FINER = Feasibility, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, Relevant

SPICE = Setting, Perspective, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation

SPIDER = Sample, Phenomena of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research Type

If your research question does not/not yet fit any of these formats, to start your search pull out the key words in your research question and list synonyms of those terms to expand your search results. 


Advanced Search Techniques

Basic Searching (a.k.a. "Googling"): 

  • Using basic search terms to locate background information on a research topic
  • Great approach to refine a research question
  • Provides additional leads to information

Berry Picking:

  • Scan the results of a basic search to identify similar articles
  • Leads to additional sources of information
  • Provides leads to various offshoots of research topic

Pearl Growing: 

  • Start with known citation ("pearl") and use this article to identify additional search terms and resources
  • Helps to develop a search strategy
  • Continue process as new sources are identified

Citation Searching:

  • Leads to additional information sources
  • Forward searching: search articles which have cited the initial article
  • Backward searching: search articles cited within the initial article

Concept Building: 

  • Used when an exhaustive or extensive search is required. Such as a systematic or scoping review. 
  • A "mini" search is built for each research concept. The "mini" searches are then combined.
  • This search process provides a "map" for a reproducible search strategy. 


  • AND: Combines terms and limits search results. 

         Example: (Older adults AND pneumonia) will search for articles which contain both terms, thus limiting the search results.

  • OR: Chooses either term and expands search results. 

          Example: (Older adults OR elderly) will search for articles with either terms, thus expanding the search results. 

  • NOT: Eliminates a term and limits search results.

          Example: (Older adults NOT adolescents) will produce search results that have eliminated any articles that contain that term. 


  • Commonly used as an asterisk (*) and applied after the root of a word will search for all version of that word. 
  • Example: Child* will search for the terms: Child, children, childlike, childless, etc. 


  • Use parentheses to nest query terms within other query terms.
  • You can enclose search terms and their operators in parentheses to specify the order in which they are interpreted. Information within parentheses is read first, then information outside parentheses is read next
  •  Example: (Older adults OR elderly) AND pneumonia

Quotation marks: 

  • Use quotation marks to keep terms together, such as in a phrase. This will eliminate separate searches for individual terms in a phrase.
  • Example: "length of stay" will search this phrase and only produce results with this phrasing. 


  • Typically located on the left side of a database, limiters can help to eliminate or reduce unwanted results. 
  • Common limiters include: Peer reviewed, date, type of resource


  • Synonyms can expand your search results.
  • Just as different people have different terms for common objects, authors may refer to their topic with different terms
  • Example: Older adults may be referred to as elderly or geriatric in various articles. 
  • You can expand your search terms by reviewing the "Keywords" or "Search terms" identified in various articles which match your research. 
  • The Boolean OR is used between synonyms. The database will then produce results which contain any or the terms. 


Each medical database is unique. Learning the different aspects of each database will help you to determine which will provide the search results unique to your research question. 

Database & Resource Help provides tutorials for each database.

To determine which databases fit best with your field of study refer to your toolkit: 

KCOM Biomedical Sciences Toolkit

KCOM Medicine Toolkit