Skip to Main Content

East Carolina University: RN to BSN Library Research Guide: Search-Strategy Lab Notebook

Search-Strategy Lab Notebook

What is a "Search Strategy Lab Notebook?" 

One of the best tips I've learned as a librarian is to think of research as a science project. 

Remember in elementary school when you would do basic science experiments and the teacher would ask you to write down your thoughts on your science project as you were doing it?

  • You might have drawn and colored what you saw.
  • You may have written down the results of your science experiment.
  • Sometimes the results were expected and sometimes they were not what you expected at all.

Either way, the lab notebook was one tool you used to be transparent in your research by recording each step you took. It also helped your teacher to see exactly what you did and how that work helped you find your conclusion. 

A Search Strategy Lab Notebook is the very same concept, just for a library article search! 

Keeping track of the keywords, search strategies, and databases you used can help you and your instructor know exactly what was useful and what was not. It also helps you to have a record of the search you used so that you can do the exact same search again in the future. This can also be called "being transparent" in your research. You are giving other researchers the ability to use the same steps that you took to find the important research you found. 

The basic things that are included in the "Search Strategy Lab Notebook" are: 

  • Your research question in the PICO formatting
  • A chart to help you break down your research question into search concepts using the PICO acronym 
  • A chart to help you remember which databases you used, what specific keywords you used, the actual search strategy you used, what filters you used, the date of your search, and any notes on how effective or ineffective the search was. 
  • A chart to keep track of peer-reviewed articles and APA references


This is an example of what your "Search Strategy Lab Notebook" can look like: 

Research “Lab” Notebook: 

  • Name: 
  • Date for Project: 
  • Research Question:

Chart to help you brainstorm keywords & medical subject headings using PICO: 

This sample PICO table helps a student to break down a search into 4 concepts that can be used for keyword ideas. The column titles are population, intervention, comparison, and outcome.


Chart to help you keep track of the databases you used for searching & the exact search used for your research question: 

This is a sample search strategy table. The top columns are named: Date of Search, Database Used, and Filters or Limiters on Search. The Rows below are titled: "Keywords used", "search strategy", "Number of results" and "notes on this Search"


Key Articles APA 7 References: 

A small table with two rows and two columns. One column is titled "Database Located" and the other column is titled "APA reference". The second column is blank for the student to fill out.


Below is a link to a sample "Search Strategy" Google document for you to copy and make your own: 

Carrie Forbes, MLS

Profile Photo
Carrie Forbes
Laupus Library
Room 2518
East Carolina University
600 Moye Blvd.
Greenville, NC 27834
252-744-2217 -OR- 252-689-8734 (TEXT)