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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research & Publication in Medicine & Health

Getting Started

  • What is it that you are looking for?
  • Do you need a few articles that provide an current or historical overview?
  • Do you need to do exhaustive research on a focused topic?
  • Are you wanted to see what others have done in a particluar topic area?

For in-depth literature searching:

It often helps to frame your research topic as a question; consider the who, what, when, where and how or how much.

Identify each major concept of your question. You can use these concepts to forumulate  your search strategy.

For each concept, consider the most specific terms or key words that you could use to describe that concept. Each of these strings then becomes a single search statement.

Basic Steps of a Literature Search

A literature review is a survey of current (you determine time frame) literature relating to a particular issue, problem, theory, etc. The review involves a comprehensive search of all of the known/findable scholarly literature related to the issue or topic. The written review provides a summary of this literature and can be a publication in its own right, or may be part of a larger academic research publication.

  • Begin with the research question
    • Identify key concepts from the research question
    • For each concept, consider keywords or subject terms that best represent the concept
    • Craft search statements using these terms/ use OR to combine synonums; use AND for terms that must be represented in the results
  • Conduct preliminary search(es) of the literature as appropriate in order to:

    • find out if the same or similar research has already been published
    • broaden or refine the scope of the problem
    • bring to light new issues or quesitons related to the topic
    • provide models or frameworks that can inform your research
    • identify experts or scholars in the field
    • provide background or context for your research
  • Refine the topic

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the literature using multiple dabases and other appropriate resrouces

  • Review/evaluatle/analyze results

    • Glance at the title; if you think the publication may be relevant look at the abstract.
    • If the abstract indicates that the article will be important go to the full text and skim the intorudction, methods and results. (If you find a structured abstract this process will be much easier.)
    • Save citations/full text for all potentially important literature.


Boolean Operators

AND narrows a search (more precise; fewer articles retrieved)

  • use to combine distinct concepts that must all be represented in resulting articles
    • condition/etiology AND risk factor
    • condition AND screening
    • condition AND population

OR broadens a search (more inclusive; more items retrieved)

  • use to combine synonyms or related terms for a single concept
    • condition/etiology  OR condition/prevention and control