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MD Research Project Literature Searching Guide

Searching the Literature

Searching the Literature

Planning a Search Strategy

Some research topics or clinical questions are more straightforward than others. However, the process of converting a research question into a search strategy can sometimes be difficult.

How do I do this?

The PICO formula might help.

The PICO process is used to frame (and answer) a clinical or health care related question. PICO is also used to develop search strategies for literature reviews.

P             patient, problem or population

I               intervention

C             comparison, control or comparator


This is my research topic:

The use of telehealth to support the self-management of asthma in rural or regional communities

This is my PICO:

Population: asthma patients in rural or regional communities

Intervention: telehealth or telemedicine

Comparison: Face-to-face

Outcome: effective management and control of asthma in rural and regional communities

Use the research topic (or clinical question) to build a search strategy.

asthma OR wheezing AND telehealth OR telemedicine AND rural OR regional OR remote

Use PubVenn to visualise your PubMed search strategy.

Consider using Text Mining to assist with search strategy development

Text mining tools can also be used to identify relevant search terms that can be used in a search strategy.

Search Tips

Boolean Operators

Most literature databases, including PubMed, use Boolean Operators to combine search words. AND / OR are the most important.

AND is used to combine different concepts or themes, e.g. stem cells and ischemic heart disease

OR is used to connect related themes or synonymous words, e.g. therapy or treatment

Word Truncation

Use the asterisk/star ( * ) to truncate word ending. Truncation enables different forms of a word to be searched for simultaneously, and will increase the number of search results. For example therap* will search for:





Phrase Searching

To search for an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in quotation marks ("speech quotes"). For example, "ischemic heart disease" will retrieve records that contain these three words in that exact order. Use to double quotation marks to search for common phrases as well as multi-word technical terms.


Use parentheses (round brackets) to group compound Boolean statements together. Round brackets are usually used to enclose word combined wth the OR operator. For example,

"Stem cell*" and (therap* or treatment*)

Peer-review and Journal Articles

Primary sources consist of scholarly, peer reviewed journal articles reporting on original research data and findings.

Secondary sources interpret, summarise or evaluate primary literature. They include systematic reviews and meta analyses.

Both primary and secondary sources are peer-reviewed.

Peer-review is the evaluation of scientific and academic research by experts working in the same field. Peer-review is anonymous and occurs before an article is published. The peer-review process helps to guarantee scientific quality.

PubMed content is generally reliable. Each of the 5000 or so journal titles indexed on the PubMed Medline database have been selected by an expert committee at the National Library of Medicine. Journal selection criteria are strict. This process is designed to exclude bogus and predatory open access journals.

PubMed journals are critically evaluated by an expert committee before being listed on the Medline database. The scientific merit of a journal’s content is the primary consideration in selecting journals for indexing.

The journal selection process for Web of Science is based on editorial review. Existing titles are constantly under review to ensure they maintain initial quality levels.

If you are unsure if the journal article is peer-reviewed, use Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory to check if a journal is peer-reviewed.

Open Ulrich’s and enter the journal name, for example the Journal of Physiology:

Refereed status is clearly stated in the journal record: