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Gerstein Science Information Centre

Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (MScQIPS)

This guide is intended to assist students in the MSc in IHPME (Quality Improvement and Patient Safety concentration) with their literature review and other research projects.

Step 1: Structure Your Research

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Concept Boxes/Tables


  1. Write out the question which you would like to answer through a literature search
  2. Underline the main topics
  3. List each unique topic in one box/column
  4. Group synonymous topics in the same box/column


For example:

In your ER, there is a need to improve hand hygiene compliance, given the high rates of C. difficile infection

Your AIM statement is:

In the emergency room of Hospital X , we will increase the current rate of hand hygiene compliance

from 40% to 80% by December 2014, to contribute to a reduction in the number of hospital-acquired C. diff cases by 50% by December 2014.

Research question might be:

Which interventions can help to increase compliance to reduce the spread of infections in hospital emergency rooms?

A more focused search question might be:

Which hand hygiene interventions can help to increase compliance to reduce the spread of C. diff infections in hospital emergency rooms?



This helps to structure your search and allows you to search more efficiently. You can now start to gather synonyms for each of the concept areas you've identified (for example, compliance and adherence are synonyms and should both be searched for this topic)

Step 2: Gather Synonyms

Give some thought to what synonyms you can use for each concept. You may gather these as you start to do your research, but try to think of them before you start so that you don't have to redo your searches.


Hand hygiene
hand washing adherence
hand disinfection guidelines
alcohol rub education

STEP 3: Combine your search terms

Search sets can be combined logically when searching in databases using boolean operators aka AND or OR.

  • OR: combines related terms for the same concept
    • e.g. cell phone OR mobile phone OR smart phone
  • AND: combines different concepts
    • e.g. doctors AND communication

Note: You can also use brackets to group concepts and force an order of operations.  " "


In a database like Scopus or Web of Science, you can enter all of your synonyms at once:

(aboriginal OR indigenous OR native OR first nations) AND (health promotion OR health education)

Note: you can also use a search strand like this in CINAHL, Medline, Embase, PsycInfo (etc.) by unchecking 'Map term to subject heading' before clicking search