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PBHL3040/PBHL3042: Health Research Methods: Search Tips

Citation Tracking

When reviewing articles and books, you might come across a citation for another article that you'd like to use. 

This short tutorial will show you how to find out if the Cheng Library has access!

If you don't find the article, or aren't sure, contact a reference librarian ( for assistance!

Try Different Terms

Need More Specific Results?

Sometimes keywords that worked well in one database won’t be as effective in another.  

Keep an eye out for new and unfamiliar concepts, as you review your results and read the literature.  Perhaps there are different ways of referring to your topic that you haven't tried yet.

You can also try using the terminology that the databases use, by exploring the Thesaurus or Subject Terms.  Many databases have a list of designated words that are used to summarize a topic, but they may not be obvious to you.

Search Strategies

Below are some things to think about before starting your research, that might help to get you started in the right direction.

  1. Searching works best when you have a research question in mind. You should be able to identify key concepts related to your research. These concepts form the basis for your search terms.  It also helps when you choose a topic that you're interested in, and will want to learn more about.
  2. Know your topic. Exploring general sources (a chapter in your textbook, an encyclopedia article or other background reading) is a good way to start. The better you understand a topic, the easier it is to evaluate sources.
  3. Know your purpose. When doing a literature review, this might involve disputing or supporting a theory or approach, and/or learning about the topic in order to develop your own assessment.
  4. Start early/Don't wait until the last minute. Until you've done some searching and reading, you might not recognize if your topic is too broad or narrow.  Starting early also lets you request resources that may not be available locally and need to be requested through Interlibrary Loan.
  5. Select resources appropriate to your topic. Scholarly research requires that you use only peer-reviewed journals. Or, you may need to use a combination of books and articles, or even news sources or primary sources.  Always refer to your assignment before beginning, to make sure you start off on the right track.

Wildcards & Truncation

Truncation Finds Multiple Word Forms

The asterisk (*) is usually used, to search words with the same root:

        Toxic* =  toxicology, toxicity, etc.

Wildcard symbols (usually a ‘?’) replace a single letter:

        Wom?n = Woman, Women