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Public Health: Introduction to Literature Searching

Resources and tutorials for the Masters in Public Health program

Conducting a Literature Review

Conducting a good literature search, especially for a systematic review, requires you to be methodical, transparent, and reproducible. The table below provides an overview of the search process and tips for ensuring that process goes smoothly. 

Concept Tips and Considerations

Before you begin, think about:

  • Has this review already been published?
  • Do you have a clear focused topic/question?
  • Is your scope reasonable?
  • Search several databases; limit to review articles

What type of review are you writing?

  • e.g. narrative review, systematic review, background for a research article
  • Check standards for the type of review you’re writing
  • Look at reviews published in your target journal

Comprehensive Search

  • Search multiple databases
  • Search by topic
  • Citation tracking for key articles
  • How do you know you’re done?
  • Red flags: look for patterns
  • Subject specific database(s) and multidisciplinary database(s) 
    • e.g. PubMed or Ovid, PSYCInfo, CINAHL
  • Identify concepts and search terms (subject headings, textwords)
    • Use a concept table to organize search terms
  • Use Web of Science and Google Scholar
    • Related records in Web of Science
  • Be conscious of saturation
    • All/most from single research group or perspectives
    • No recent publications

Document your search process

  • Set up system before you start
  • Use a concept table to organize search terms
  • Track databases you search
  • Track search strategies used
  • Refine your searches

Do final searches

  • Use refined strategy to search all databases
  • Capture search as run (e.g. save in database or screen shot)

Manage what you find

  • Create accounts in each database order to save results
  • Use EndNote
  • PubMed or Ovid
  • Web of Science 
  • CINAHL, PSYCInfo, etc.
  • Endnote

Keep current

  • Discover new articles on your topic as they are published
  • Save final searches and set up alerts



Throughout your MPH program, you will be using a number of information resources. The following databases will be crucial to your information retrieval process. 

Grey Literature

Clinical Trials/Results Databases

Conference Proceedings and Dissertations