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Structured PIO searching for SSSHL students

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Information and videos on PIO searching

Planning your search

It is important to plan a search strategy before beginning your research. This guide will help you decide what you want to find and will save you time in the future. For Evidence Based Practice (EBP) searches you will be expected to break down your question into its key concepts using a formula such as PIO:    Population; Intervention (or issue); Outcome

This section of the guide will cover:

  • Structuring your search using PIO formula
  • Considering your topic and keywords

The following video will give you an overview of the PIO search formula and how to apply it using an example research question.


           Video                         Written guidance


Boolean operators and advance search technique

When you search for information, it’s very easy to get too many results or results that aren't very relevant. When you type in more than one search term, you can link them together with AND or OR.  These are known as Boolean operators.

Below is a visual example of how the AND and OR functions both work when combining keywords.


The following videos explain how each of the operators work in more detail.

Boolean Operators - OR        Boolean Operators - AND             Written guidance

    Video                       Video                

Advanced search technique

The use of truncation, wildcards and phrase searching can drastically improve the accuracy of your search results. The following video explains how each of them can be used and when they might be useful.

           Video                          Written guidance



Putting it all together - searching the database

Once you have decided on all of your search terms and structured your PIO search you need to input them into the databases to find the relevant research.  The databases for your subject can be found on your Subject LibGuides. The following instructions refer to EBSCO branded databases.

These are identifiable by this logo 

Early Years, Early Childhood Studies and Education students - your EBSCO databases are listed here

The following video will demonstrate how to input your terms using boolean operators to maximize the accuracy of your results.

           Video                     Written guidance 



Viewing your results

Once you have found some useful items, the next step is opening them to read the full text. The following video tutorial below shows you how to do this. 

           Video                     Written guidance


Creating/managing an EBSCO account

You can open any of our databases and search without having to create a personal account. To use some of the more advanced features of our EBSCO resources you need to create a personal account in order to:

  • Save searches (which you can retrieve and re-run later).
  • Save articles – so you don’t have to look through the full set of results each time you run a search.
  • Create folders, so you can organise your saved articles.


The username and password you create is personal to you. If you forget your password you will need to Reset it.

            Video                      Written guidance 


Saving, retrieving and re-running a search

The following video (or written guidance) shows you how to save your search results so you can return to them later. They both mention a database named CINAHL but the same processes work for many of our databases.

           Video                   Written guidance 


Next steps

If you thought this information was useful you may want to look at some of the other Learning Hub guides aimed at helping students with dissertations or writing a literature review:

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If you have any comments about this skills guide, we would love to know them. 

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