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Public Health Resources for OPAL

This guide offers a collection of sources to support public health research.


Welcome to the Public Health Resources guide! This guide provides a collection of sources to support public health research efforts. Please use the side bar to explore and navigate the different resources provided.

Search Tips

Boolean Operators:   The command language recognized by databases.  Use to broaden or narrow your search.


Intersection - retrieves results that include all the search terms.
e.g. football AND hockey        (179 results)


Union - retrieves results that include at least one of the search terms
e.g. football OR hockey          (5,614 results)


Exclusion - excludes the retrieval of terms from your search.
(will exclude ALL articles with that concept) Use cautiously!


"Head Injuries" AND (football OR hockey OR basketball)


Controlled vocabulary:   The standardized terminology applied by indexers to records in a database.  Each database has its own unique terminology that best represents the subject areas covered.  Use to find preferred search terms for the specific database.

Keyword Searching:  (also called natural language or free-text words)  User-selected terms which can be single terms or phrases.  The use of these terms results in a search of the entire citation (e.g. title, abstract, index terms). 

Phrase searching:  to keep terms together. Indicated by "double quotes"

  • e.g. "very low calorie diet"

Truncation:  to find variations of a root word.  Typically indicated by an asterisk*

  • e.g. diarrhea* finds diarrhea, diarrheaic, diarrheal, diarrheatic

Designated field searching:  Directs the database where in the record to search.  The default search is [all fields], which frequently retrieves many false hits such as: journal names (e.g. Malaria Journal) and author affiliations (e.g. Malaria Research Center).  Field searching is specific to each database, for example in PubMed: 

  • Klag, M[au]           searches the author field
  • diarrhea[tiab]       searches both the title and abstract fields
  • malaria[tw]           searches for the text word in the citation

Search History:   The search history contains a list of searches completed within each session.  It typically includes: search number, search terms, and number of results.  Use to combine searches.  In PubMed is found under "Advanced Search".

Search Alerts and Saving Searches:  These are free services provided by databases to save search queries and enable automatic e-mail updates for saved searches.  In PubMed, this service is available from My NCBI.

Search Techniques

  • Pearl Growing -  is the process of beginning with one very relevant citation, then reviewing the text words that appear in the title and abstract and assigned controlled vocabulary terms to identify additional search terms for your search strategy. 
  • Building Block (Concept Building) – this is the most common technique for systematic and comprehensive searches.  The process involves identifying the main concepts of the search question and then developing a set of related terms or synonyms for each concept using a combination of controlled vocabulary and keyword terms.  Each concept is run as a separate search in the database.  Concepts are then combined using the "Search History" feature. Related terms are combined with "OR".  Concepts are combined with "AND".
  • Citation Searching – is the process of reviewing forward and backward citations to a paper using citation databases such as Scopus or Web of Science.  Forward Searching:  Use 'Cited By' links to identify citing articles.  Backward Searching:  Use 'Reference Lists' to explore the earlier articles cited by an article.

Google Search tip:  use the site domain feature to limit searches to government, education, or country specific websites.  (e.g. zika, (e.g. diabetes

Examining resources and determining what is most useful for your research can be a tedious process. Finding resources that are credible and meet academic standards can make that process even longer. Understanding how to quickly assess and evaluate resources is a key part in conducting resource.

An easy acronym to follow is RADAR, radar stands for Relevance, Authority, Date, Accuracy, Reason

Relevance - How is this information relevant to your assignment?

Authority - Who is the author? What makes this person or organization an authoritative source?

Date - When was this information published and is the publication date important to you?

Accuracy - Where are they getting their information from? Does it have citations and references? Are they using reputable sources or explaining how they gathered their data?

Reason for writing - Why did the author publish this information?

Adapted from Burkhardt, J.M & MacDonald, M.C. (2010). Teaching information Literacy: 50 standards-based exercises for college students.Chicago: American Library Association.

SAGE Research Methods

The Welch Medical Library subscribes to SAGE Research Methods, a tool that helps researchers explore basic and advanced statistics, quantitative and qualitative approaches, the literature review, research design, and writing up research results. 

It links to over 175,000 pages of SAGE’s book, journal, and reference content, including the full text of the Little Green Books series (Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences).

Also included is the companion tool, SAGE Research Methods Cases, a collection of case studies of research performed using a variety of approaches.  This tool is described in the video below.