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Library Materials for the College of Medicine and Life Sciences: The 30 Second Guide to Databases & Searching

This guide provides easy access to library resources for faculty, staff, students, fellows, and residents in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

5 Tips for Searching

1.  Database Preferred Vocabulary (Controlled Vocabulary) - Are you struggling to find relevant articles? Take a few minutes to browse the database preferred vocabulary or controlled vocabulary to see if the database recognizes different vocabulary. Do not delete your other search terms, but instead combine them with the Database Preferred Vocabulary. Below are three examples of how to locate and recognize the vocabulary in some different databases:

  • MESH - Medical Subject Headings - PubMed
  • Emtree - Embase
  • CINAHL Headings - CINAHL

2. Defining your topic or Developing a question - The terms PICOT or PICO may look familiar. These are a common tool for structuring your question, to search a database, called (Patient or Population, Intervention, Counter Intervention, Outcome, and Treatment - where applicable).

3. What is a literature search? Why is it necessary? A literature search gives you an idea of the published research on your proposed topic. If you want to present on your project or topic, the goal is usually to introduce something new. If you do not see what other people have done, then you might do a lot of work only to discover that it is not relevant or applicable.

4. Have I looked enough? How much do I need to find? These are tough questions to answer, but they are important to consider.

  • How much do I need to find? Ideally, you need to be able to make a strong case for why your project or topic introduces something new. If you are doing a review article, then you want to find enough research to provide a well-rounded perspective and use sufficient evidence to make this point. Defining sufficient is tough, but you need to feel confident in being able to both define and argue your point.
  • Have I looked enough? Are you stumbling across multiple articles on the same topic? Have you tried searching in a number (i.e. 3-5 different ways) of ways and you are still finding the same articles across multiple searches? If the answer to both questions is yes, I would guess you have enough information to writing your IRB proposal, designing a study, or writing a review article.

5.  Exporting Citations - if you use EndNote, Zotero, or something else to "collect" citations for a project; this feature is available in all databases - including Google Scholar.

  • PubMed - Send to Citation Manager  (This is located under the Send To option.)
  • Embase - Select the appropriate results using the box to the left and then select Export to the right of total number of results.

EMBASE: Drug Information, Drug Development, European Perspective

  • This database responds well to the 'quotation mark.' If you use these single quotes, your search results will improve.
  • If you have a topic, such as oncology, where the medication and treatment options are always changing, Embase is your go-to database.
  • Emtree allows you to search the "controlled vocabulary" for Embase. It can also be useful, if you cannot locate articles that are relevant to your topic.
  • Some Embase articles are also listed in PubMed. You can restrict to just Embase, if you want, by selecting Sources>Embase on the left side.

PubMed: Biomedical and Clinical Research Database

  • Updated daily with lots of new content (new articles, updating existing articles, etc)
  • Need to find an article with a partial reference? Try the Single Citation Matcher
  • Keywords and MESH words combined together provide the best search. Remember - MESH terms are added 3-6 months after an article appears in PubMed but keywords are added immediately. Check out Literature Searches for more tips on searching.
  • Double Quotes are perfect for finding a single piece of information, test, or questionnaire among your test results. Note: it is best to use this trick, once you have a good number of results that fit your topic.

CINAHL - Social Science, Public Health, Social Work, Psychology, and more....

  • This database contains articles published by Doctors, Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologist, and Public Health Professionals.
  • Struggling to find the right article? Check out the CINAHL Headings to see if other words are more appropriate for the database.
  • If your topic is health promotion, health prevention, population health, or more interdisciplinary; this database is worth investigating.