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Evidence Based Practice

Google logo with magnifying glass
Note. By Steinberger, S. (2014), FlickrCC BY 2.0.

Can I Google it?


Google can certainly be a convenient starting point for research, especially when exploring general topics or seeking quick answers. If you aren't sure what you are looking at, or looking for, a basic Google search may be an excellent way to get some foundational knowledge on any questions or topics you may have.

However, it may not always lead to reliable or scholarly sources suitable for evidence-based practice. Google's search results can vary widely in quality and may include non-peer-reviewed sources, biased information, or outdated content. For those engaging in evidence-based practice, it's essential to critically evaluate the credibility, relevance, and authority of any sources you may find, regardless of if it comes from Google or a database.

If you want to skip some of the work of finding credible and up-to-date information, check out our library's resources, including:

  • Resource Guides: which are curated pages on various topics both academic and popular.
  • Library Databases which offer access to peer-reviewed journals, scholarly articles, and other authoritative sources that undergo rigorous review processes, all for free!

Want to know more about Google and searching?

Jensenius, F., Htun, M., Samuels, D., Singer, D., Lawrence, A., & Chwe, M. (2018). The Benefits and Pitfalls of Google Scholar. PS: Political Science & Politics, 51, 1–5.

Rovira, C., Codina, L., & Lopezosa, C. (2021). Language Bias in the Google Scholar Ranking Algorithm. Future Internet, 13(2).

Zientek, L., Werner, J., Campuzano, M., & Nimon, K. (2018). The Use of Google Scholar for Research and Research Dissemination. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 30, 39–46.

Google Scholar Search

Popular versus Academic Sources: When to use what?

Scholarly sources and popular sources both have value but serve different purposes in research.

Scholarly sources, such as peer-reviewed journals and academic books, are often highly credible and undergo rigorous evaluation by relevant experts in their field. These sources tend to provide in-depth analysis, detailed methodologies, and the information included within are often cited, so you can trace it back to the source.

Because of the level of detail and accountability in these sources, the information tends to be more reliable, and therefore stronger when conducting evidence-based research.

Confused student with hand on forehead
Note. Wayhomestudio, n.d., Freepik. CC BY 2.0.

For example, a scholarly article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology might present the findings of a controlled study on the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders, providing detailed data and analysis. 

However, this depth of rigor may come at the price of accessbility.

On the other hand, popular sources like magazines, newspapers, and websites offer accessible and engaging content but may lack the depth and reliability of scholarly sources. They can be useful for gaining initial insights into a topic or understanding broader trends and perspectives.

For instance, an article in Psychology Today might offer practical tips for managing anxiety, drawing on personal experiences and general observations.

While popular sources can provide useful background information, they should be used cautiously in certain types of academic research, as they may not always be rigorously vetted or based on empirical evidence.

Search Strategies

When you're looking for information, using various search strategies can help you find what you need, and find it quickly!

Key Words

Before you start using advanced search strategies, it is important to break your topic or question into some key words. Question frameworks, like PICO and SPIDER, can help you break down your question into key words. Or, you can bring your potential topic(s) to a librarian, and they will be happy to help. For most, if not all, of your key words, it is important to make note of some of their synonyms.

  • E.g., if you're studying animals, you might use words like "dogs" or "cats" and those terms may get you some results, but so could "canine" and "feline"

Subject Headings

Subject Headings are key terms that act like a tag or label describing what the item (article, book, thesis, etc.) is about. Like social meadia hastags, suject headings useful because they provide a consistent way of describing the subject matter of the item. These headings can be created by either the author or the database, and use a standarized list to create a controlled vocabulary. 

MeSH Terms

MeSH stands for Medical Suject Headings, and are the controlled vocaulary or thesaurus produced by the National Library of MEdicine    MeSH terms are hierarchically-organized vocabulary produced by the National Library of Medicine. It is used for indexing, cataloging, and searching of biomedical and health-related information. MeSH terms include the subject headings that appear in PubMed and  other NLM databases.



How can I get the most out of my search terms?

Want to get the most out of your search terms without having to add a new key word for each variation of a term? Then look no further than truncation, wildcards, and phrasing!


Truncation and wildcards can be applied to a keyword search in a database or search engine to broaden your results and allow you to look for variations of words.

The truncation symbol can be used in a keyword search to retrieve alternate word endings

  • e.g. surg* will retrieve surgery, surgeries, surgeon, and surgical, but also surge.

Use with caution to ensure relevant words are being retrieved; in some cases, you should avoid truncating a keyword too far to the left

  • e.g. stud* will retrieve study, studies, student, students, etc.


Wildcards are symbols that can optionally replace one or more letters in a word

  • e.g. wom?n will retrieve woman and women. 

Wildcards are useful when dealing with variant spelling

  • e.g. colo?r retrieves both color and colour.

Note: Some databases differentiate between wildcards that represent 

Truncation and wildcard symbols can vary among databases:

  • CQ Researcher: truncation symbol is an asterisk (*), wildcard is a question mark (?)
  • EBSCO Databases (e.g. CINAHL, Social Science Index) truncation symbol is an asterisk (*), wildcard has two options:
    • The hashtag/pound sign (#) matches one optional character.
      • A search for colo#r returns items whose records contain: color, colour
    • The question mark (?) matches exactly one character.
      • A search for ne?t returns items whose records contain: neat, nest or next
  • PubMed: truncation symbol is an asterisk (*), does not support wildcards.
  • ScienceDirect: does not support truncation or wildcards
  • WorldCat: truncation is an asterisk (*), wildcard has two options
    • The hashtag/pound sign (#) matches one character
      • A search for anders#n returns items whose record contains: anderson, andersen

    • the question mark (?) represents any number of additonal characters
      • include a number after the question mark if you know the maximum number of characters the wildcard will replace
        • A search for bu?2ler returns items whose record contains: burner, butler

Check the help screen of other databases to find out which symbols are used! 

Exact Phrase

If you want to find an exact phrase, you can put it in quotation marks (e.g., "Climate change" rather than "Climate" AND "Change")

Note: Some databases use parathesis instead.

Note.University of Essex Library. (2016, October 12). Search strategy 5- truncation and wildcards [Video]. YouTube.


When exploring resources within the library or specific databases, you're pretty likely to encounter search results that don't really align with your needs. These results might be outdated, lack peer-review status, or not accessible in full text (but you need to read it right now!). 

Thats why it's important to filter your results! But remember while its important to narrow down your results, don't go too extreme with your filters (or you might miss out on some results that you actually need), and make sure to explore all the filtering options available! 

Check out some of the filtering options in EBSCO (an excellent database to start with!) in this video.

Note.EBSCO Tutorials (2022, April 20). Introduction to EBSCOhost- Tutorial [Video]. YouTube. 

What are Boolean Operators?

Boolean operators are the words "AND", "OR" and "NOT".  When used in library databases (typed between your keywords) they can make each search more precise - and save you time!


AND narrows a search by telling the database that ALL keywords used must be found in an article in order for it to appear in your results list. Search for two or more concepts that interest you by combining descriptive keywords with AND. 



OR broadens a search by telling the database that any of the words it connects are allowed. This is particularly helpful when you are searching for synonyms, such as “climate change” OR “global warming.” 

(pic here)OR BOOLEAN


NOT narrows your search by telling the database to eliminate all terms that follow it from your search results. This can be useful when you are interested in a very specific aspect of a topic, such as "higher education" NOT "online instruction" won't pull results for online classes. 
Note: Use NOT with caution as good items can be eliminated from the results retrieved. 


Check out this video to see boolean operators in action!

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