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Health Sciences Advanced Search

This guide is designed from postgraduate level students working on primary research projects or dissertations.

Advanced Search in the Health Sciences

This Research Guide will give you guidance on how to search the health sciences literature effectively:

  • detailed instructions,
  • insider tips,
  • quick images,
  • useful lists,
  • wisdom,
  • cautions,
  • video demos

If you have no idea where to start or if you hit a brick wall, contact me. I'm here to help. That's my job. 

I can work with you by phone, by email, by face-to-face appointment, or by Zoom virtual meeting technology.

My contact information is under my photo.

REMINDERS: Basics for Literature Reviews

Before attempting to perform an Advanced Search looking for Evidence to support a healthcare decision:

Review these 8 steps for performing a basic literature review:



Choice a Topic

Randomly, explore a topic you find fascinating, that you enjoy, that you are passionate about, or that is causing your concern.

Perform test searches in places you usually search to see if you can find enough published material on your topic to allow you to perform a meaningful literature review. If you perform 2-3 test searches in different places and find fewer than 5 items, then seek the help of a librarian or change your topic.



 Ask yourself where information on your topic might be located.

      Newspapers?    Government Websites?    Books?     Popular Magazines?    Research Journals?

  • If your topic is Adult Learning Theory, don't look for information in a Sociology database. Look in Education databases instead.
  • If you are looking for scientific information on Global Warming, don't go to Political resources or General databases. Look in Science databases (ScieneceDirect) or look for internet resources that report rigorous scientific studies, not opinion pieces or popular speculation. Example: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • If you are looking for research on the politics of Global Warming, go to Political resources.
  • Is your topic cross-disciplinary? Fashion information can be found in BUSINESS, ART, HISTORY, and ENTERTAINMENT resources.


Choose your Search Tools.

Google Scholar               EBSCOhost logo            YouTube logo          Library of Congress logo

Identify the tools necessary to locate published works on your topic.  

     Search Engines such as Google Scholar?    Government websites such as the Library of Congress?     Library databases or catalogs?      

Use a variety of tools to get comprehensive results. 

     No one information searching tool will find everything you will need for an adequate literature review at the University level.

Google:  This tool crawls the internet looking for matches to the letters, words, and phrases typed into the Google Search Box. 

CAUTION: Google tracks your searches, archives those searches, and then manipulates future search results based on your Search History and other information the company has harvested about you.

WISDOM: It is crucial to know how to build a sophisticated search string in order to defeat manipulated results.

ADVICE: Search the internet using alternative or additional search tools such DuckDuckGo search engine or library databases. Don't rely on Google alone.

DATABASES: Databases are internet sites that contain citations of articles, books, videos, etc., that commercial publishers provide. Some databases are freely available on the internet (PubMed), but most databases require a $ubscription and user login. The TWU Libraries provide access to databases free of charge (TWU Portal Username and Password login required) and provide as much free full-text as financially feasible.

       TWU Database options by subject, type, or provider

CATALOG:  This tool searches an electronic list of citations for everything a Library has purchased for use. A Library Catalog lists book titles, journal titles, video titles, etc., that the Library provides and then offers location information concerning WHERE to find an item in the Library. 

CAUTION: A Library Catalog does NOT list articles.

ADVICE:  Use databases to locate articles.


What form of information do you need?

   Journal article icon           Newspaper icon         Video icon    Book icon        Audio icon       National Institutes of Health website         

Decide which information format will provide the information you seek before choosing a search tool or database:

        Research Articles  *  Newspaper articles  *  Videos  *  Book chapters  *  Audio Recordings  *  Government websites

Keep in mind that some topics have a TIME component.

  • Original, primary Information on topics that are historical may not be available full-text online. You may have to search print resources physically by hand. Browse Library shelves. Also try searching Archives. Archives are great resources for historical information. Some archives are print only; others have been digitized, but may be hard to find. Ask a librarian for help.
  • Information on topics that are extremely current may only be available online: news websites, blog posts, twitter, etc.


Choose your words carefully.



  Pain Reliever    *    Tylenol   *    Acetaminophen

Informal                   Formal                  Technical

The BEST search begins with a search for the RIGHT SEARCH WORDS. If you get the RIGHT WORDS, the literature will fall into your lap.

When choosing search terms, be comprehensive. Think of as many words as you can.

  • Use Natural Language search terms -- common, everyday words used by the general public.
  • Use Controlled Vocabulary search terms -- formal / technical terminology.

           Think -- Synonyms!!!

Help with finding formal & technical search terms:


Budapest Gambit by Sylvain Gadenne

       Devise a Search Strategy

       Make a Plan    *    Follow Your Plan    *   Track Your Work

  • Explore, then choose a topic.
  • Decide which tools to use.  (EX:  Google, JSTOR database, Library Catalog)
  • Decide which formats.    (EX: articles, videos, book chapters, government websites.)
  • List all your search terms.    (EX: "pain reliever" or tylenol or acetaminophen)
  • Identify a timeframe (2009-2017) or limit to peer-reviewed resources only

    Try using an Excel Spreadsheet or homemade matrix (table/chart) to help keep track
     of where you searched and the words you tried.

     Use Boolean Logic

           Boolean logic



     Read carefully. Analyze what you read.  Write down your thoughts.

     Keep the following in mind when writing:

  • Early in the review, state why the topic being reviewed is important.
  • Distinguish between research findings and other types of information.
  • Indicate why certain studies or certain resources are more important.
  • Mention / address other literature reviews on your topic, if they exist.
  • Use your matrix/table/chart to prevent missing or forgetting what you found, where you searched, and which search terms you used.
  • Note points of agreement between writers.
  • Note points of disagreement and analyze why.
  • Note gaps and weaknesses in individual arguments.
  • Note gaps and weaknesses in the body of literature as a whole.
  • Conclude your review with your own personal assessment of your topic based on what the literature reveals. Refer directly to the literature to bolster your argument.

  If you need help writing, contact the TWU Write Site:

  • Direct, individualized writing assistance.
  • Not a proofreading or editing service.


Cite your sources. Don't plagiarize.


Know Your Style    *    Use Your Guide   *   When In Doubt - Cite  *   Proofread!

CAUTION: Some databases (and even Google Scholar) offer citations you can copy/paste. If you use that assistance, definitely PROOFREAD. 

Publisher-provided citations are not always exactly correct.