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Clinical Nutrition

This guide provides an overview of resources and search strategies for clinical nutrition research.


While there is no one perfect way to begin a research project, there are some simple steps you can follow to ensure that you have a high quality and thorough search strategy. 

  1. Develop a research question or choose a topic
  2. Identify the first step in your research process
  3. Develop your search strategy using PICO
  4. Brainstorm your search terms or identify terminology that must be included in your search
  5. Perform a preliminary search to determine if their is any literature on your topic 


Step 1: Developing a Research Question or Choosing a Topic

Selecting a research topic

Begin the process by identifying what you have an interest in investigating. What do you what to know? What do you want to learn? Who do you want help? What medication, treatment, procedure, or therapy do you want to research? Is there a specific population you want to focus your research on? Note that the more narrow your topic or focused the research question is, the less literature you are likely to find. It is recommended that you begin with a broad search to determine what has been published on a specific patient population, medication, procedure, therapy, etc.

Step 2: Identify the first step in your research process

Research Steps

After reviewing resources online and/or through the library, you may need to consult additional resources, such as:

  • a textbook;
  • human expert(s);
  • or other resources to acquire information to help you as you investigate your research question.

research steps

Step 3: Developing Your Search Strategy Using PICO

Developing Your Research Question Using PICO

PICO is an acronym for

  • Patient
  • Intervention
  • Comparison
  • Outcome

PICO is used to create a researchable question based on a clinical situation you have encountered. Based on your PICO question, you will identify keywords and/or subject terms to use in database searches. 

You can use PICO to develop your research question.

Patient or population/disease: Which population are you studying? (Consider age, gender, ethnicity, group with a certain disorder, etc.)

Intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure: What do you want to do for the patient? (Consider therapy, exposure to a disease, risk behavior, prognostic factor, preventative measure, or diagnostic test.)

Comparison or control: Are you comparing two interventions or variables? (Consider absence of disease, absence of risk factor, or use of placebo.)

Outcome: What is the expected result or what do you hope to accomplish, improve, or affect? (Consider disease incidence, accuracy of a diagnosis, rate of occurrence of adverse outcome, survival, or mortality rates.)

Step 4: Brainstorm Your Search Terms

Once you have developed your research question or chosen your topic you can begin to brainstorm terms to use in your database search.

  • Brainstorm terms authors or indexers might use to describe your topic
  • Make a list of terminology and relevant terms to use in your search
  • Include synonyms or similar terms to combine using the Boolean operator OR
  • Search for controlled vocabulary in the databases (for example, MeSH terms in PubMed)

Step 5: Preliminary Search

Perform a preliminary search to determine what has been published on your topic or research question. The preliminary search is the point in the research process where you can identify a gap in the literature. Part of the preliminary search should include going through citations -- for example, if you find one relevant article, read through both the articles it has cited and articles that have cited it (this can be done in most databases, but Scopus and Google Scholar tend to be the most thorough). This practice, called citation chasing or hand searching, makes it easy to determine how much literature there is on your topic and makes it easier to ensure that you have found most of what is out there.


The "Cited by" list on Scopus.


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