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Search for Literature & Data

*Remember, librarians are available to help during all stages of the search process.*


Research Questions & Search Strategies

  • Develop a research question that has a population, intervention/exposure, and outcome in mind (PIO or PEO framework)
  • Identify search terms that would help you retrieve literature on all PIO/PEO aspecets of your topic.
  • Search strategies to consider
    • Building blocks -  create individual search lines for each PIO/PEO concept, use different field tags for different lines, and/or make a concept table
    • Pearl growing - begin with a relevant document and use the characteristics to grow a set of related documents. (Try it in Scopus by exploring "Related Documents")
    • Citation chaining - find a relevant article and mine its reference list. (Try it in Web of Science by exploring "Citation Network")
    • Simple strategy - select a database, divide question into parts/concepts, and compose a single query using terms for each concept linked by Boolean operators (AND/OR)
    • Modify your search as needed based on the results
  • Controlled vocabulary - use controlled vocabulary search terms to retrieve documents about a topic, without depending on the authors’ choice of terminology

    • MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) is the National Library of Medicine’s controlled vocabulary thesaurus used for indexing articles for PubMed.
    • Emtree is Elsevier’s authoritative life science thesaurus.

Where to Start

Different databases have different controlled vocabularies, functionality, literature types, and more. Set up a consultation and we’ll make searching recommendations based on your research topic, goals, and preferences.

  • Scholarly literature - written by researchers; undergoes a thorough publication process usually involving peer-review.
    Core resources for public health and biomedical literature:
  • Grey literature - information produced at all levels of government, academia, business, and industry; publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body
    • The Community Guide - evidence-based findings for population health, funded by the CDC, with infographics and analyses of interventions on a variety of public health topics.
    • Healthy People 2030 - comprehensive set of national goals and objectives for improving the health of Americans.
    • Industry Documents - documents related to public health and made public through lawsuits, including smoking, diet (especially sugar), drugs, chemicals, and fossil fuels.
    • Policy Commons - community platform for research from policy experts, nonpartisan think tanks, IGOs and NGOs.
  • Finding data - visit the medical library's Research Data site for health data resources

Citation Managers

Citation managers allow you to: 

  • Organize your readings in one place
  • Access readings offline
  • Find full-text articles
  • Avoid redoing a search
  • Cite sources in your preferred citation style and auto-format a reference list

Download EndNote | EndNote Tutorials

Download Zotero | Zotero Quick Start Guide


Knowing how to read, evaluate, and synthesize scholarly literature is a skill which you can develop with help from the Medical Library! We offer a class on annotation 1-2 times a month called, ‘Before You Write the Review: How to Read and Annotate Scholarly Literature.” Check the CWML classes calendar for upcoming offerings.


  • Annotated bibliographies help you to remember what you have read, expose similarities, differences, and gaps in the literature, and are building blocks for the literature review paper/manuscript
  • Matrix note-taking focuses on key areas of a source document while taking notes in an Excel spreadsheet or Word document.

Critical appraisal

Your “matrix” or notes can include your summary of the findings and also your evaluation of the document’s quality. Use JBI checklists to decide whether a given paper is trustworthy.


Write a synthesis that includes both the content and the critical analysis of these materials. See ‘WRITE’ section for more.

WRITE Consult with experts of the Graduate Writing Lab at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning for all of your writing needs. Writing Lab tutors are available for 1:1 consultations.

Find reporting guidelines on the Equator Network

PUBLISH You can connect with a public health librarian to ask questions about scholarly publishing, open access, copyright, journal impact factor, article-level metrics, and more! Please see a full listing of Library memberships with publishers and support for openness initiatives here: Open Access: Library Support, which means discounts and waivers on publishing costs for Yale authors.