How to Search (And Do it Well)
Why do you need help from a librarian when doing your research project? Because they do so much more than check out books!
In this module, you will learn to think critically about how to approach a search for evidence. The main topics covered will:
- Introduce you to the importance of understanding audience and resource types in the health sciences
- Discuss how to create specific and well-defined research questions
- Teach you to think critically about where to search for evidence and the limitations and advantages to the tools you consider
- Present some valuable quick tips for searching Google Scholar and PubMed
- Guide you through the process of evaluating the quality of the evidence you find using the CRAAP Test method.
In the individual Great Diseases modules, you will be presented with your final research topics and will also have a unit that will provide more specific suggestions on where to search for information.
What type of information are you finding?
There are different types of information resource you can use when doing research. They are arranged by how close they come to the original source of the information. A primary source is considered to be the closest direct representation of information, a secondary resource is typically primary sources that have been synthesized or summarized, and a tertiary source is one that does not contain original material and is a very brief or condensed version of primary and/or secondary sources.
In the sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research.
- Research Articles
- Lab notebooks
These types of sources summarize the existing state of knowledge in a field at the time of publication. Secondary sources are good to find comparisons of different ideas and theories and to see how they may have changed over time. They often contain references to the primary sources they used.
- Books (not fiction or autobiographies)
- Review Articles
- Newspaper and magazine articles
These types of sources present condensed material, generally with references back to the primary and/or secondary literature. They can be a good place to look up data or to get an overview of a subject, but they rarely contain original material.
- Manuals and Guide books
Know the Audience
Whenever a scientist, author, producer, journalist, etc. creates something, they always think about who they are trying to reach with their final product. Knowing the intended audience is an important step in writing AND the resource evaluation process.
Some items are created for a very specific audience. Think of the researcher who writes an article about their original research for Science Magazine. They are probably writing for an audience of their peers. But what if they are writing an article about advances being made in cancer treatment? They could be trying to write for a general adult audience, which means they need to present the information differently than when writing for other researchers.
Determine the itended audience of the information so you know if it's right for your use.
You wouldn't read Jane Eyre to kindergarteners or Dr. Seuss to high schoolers.
Common Audience Groups in the Health Sciences
When you are conducting your research, it may help to think of two common audiences: Experts and Health Consumers.
Articles, books and other resources written at an expert level use complex ideas and vocabulary that is expected to be standard knowledge within a profession. In the sciences, primary sources are often expert level, as well as many subject-specific books and texts. It is important to note that audience level is not strictly tied to source type, but it can be a good rule of thumb.
Information written for health consumers is aimed at the general adult public. These readers are not expected to understand expert vocabulary or topics, so they present complex ideas in the simplest way possible, using language most people with an 8th grade reading level will understand. Because they are not creating and analyzing the information like experts do, they are called consumers. Health consumers read consumer health information. Generally, items written for health consumers are secondary or tertiary sources.
If you only need secondary or tertiary information to answer your research question, you can search Consumer Health Information sources fairly easily. However, these sources are not usually meant to have in-depth concepts and data in them. If you need actual statistics and methodologies to back up your arguments, you may need to search the primary literature for expert-level sources.