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Gerstein Science Information Centre

PHM384 Teaching and Learning

Clarify your Question

Step 1: Express your question as a sentence 

For undergraduate phamacy students, does problem based learning result in better student comprehension of course concepts as compared to case based learning?

Step 2: Express your question as a PICO (note that not every question will fit within the PICO format, and that's okay) 

P (Population) Undergraduate pharmacy students
I (Intervention) Problem based learning 
C (Comparison) Case Based Learning
O (Outcome) Increased comprehension 

Step 3: Determine your minimum searchable concepts 

  • Which elements of your question are most important to search for?
  • Generally, it is not recommended to search for outcomes - this can unintentionally bias your results to make it seem like there is more evidence to support a specific outcome than there is 
  • Consider whether a wider net would still be relevant (eg. any professional health degree, or pharmacy specifically)?

Search Tips


Are there other ways that authors might have written about your topic? What other words express the same idea?

Boolean Operators

AND only finds results that include ALL your search terms.  Use AND between unique concepts for which you want to find overlap 
OR finds results with ANY of your search terms.  Use between synonyms of the same concept 
For example: 
  • case based learning AND pharmacy 
  • case based learning AND pharmacy AND problem based learning
  • pharmacy OR pharmD


Truncation is used to search for alternate word endings in a database. Usually its done by placing an asterisk (*) where you consider the end of the word's root to be. But be careful! If you put the asterisk too soon in the word, you'll get too many irrelevant words in your search results. For example:


  • automotive
  • automobile
  • automobiles
  • automatic
  • automatically
  • auto
  • autopilot
  • autobiography
  • autopsy


  • automotive
  • automobile
  • automobiles

Phrase Searching

Adding quotation marks will help you find phrases in a database.

Searching for "problem based" will find results where 'problem' and 'based' appear right beside each other.

Searching for just problem based will find any result where both of those words appear but not necessarily side by side.

Pro Tip: Use all 3 methods together!

Try this:

Pharm* AND "problem based"