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Health Sciences - Basic Library Research

Where to start for library research in medicine, health, public health, nursing, and other health-related topics.

What is this guide for?

Use this guide to learn or review all the steps of doing library research (finding articles, books, data, etc.) There are detailed steps, with pictures, for searching in several of our major health sciences databases, including Medline, CINAHL, and SocIndex. Most databases search similarly, but the details of the options and features may be different.

If this is your first time, or want a comprehensive review, work through the tabs step by step from left to right. You can also go right to the section that you need help with.

If you have trouble, need more explanations, or just aren't finding what you need


Rebecca Hedreen, Sciences Librarian, and Lisa Bier, Social Sciences Librarian, can help you with health science library research. See our contact information on the right of this page. Anyone at the Reference Desk on the first floor of the library (203-392-5732, text 'scsu' and question to 66746, or email can also help get you started or explain anything in this guide.

Health Science Research

Most useful health science information is contained in Journal Articles. Books may give history, background, and policy considerations, but are not usually up to date. Newspaper and magazine articles give summaries and interpretations, but are prone to simplify (and sometimes distort) health research. Medical dictionaries and encyclopedias are also good for explaining basic concepts, but won't have the most up to date information or go in depth into the topics.

This guide will concentrate on finding journal articles, especially research articles, using several health topics as examples. You can work along with the guide by opening a separate window or tab in your browser to the library homepage now or using the links anywhere in this guide, which will open in a new window/tab. You will be able to switch back and forth between this guide and the databases, working through the steps.

  1. Finding and Refining your Topic
    Generally you will have some starting topic, though it may be a very broad one, like 'cancer' or 'exercise for kids'. This step will guide you through thinking about and refining your topic. There are also some suggestions if you have do not yet have a topic.
  2. Search Terms
    What do you use to search? Search terms are simply the words you type into the search boxes. Those words are processed by the search engines and databases to give you results. Different search engines and databases process search terms in different ways, so you may get different results with the same words on different sites. So it's a good idea to have alternate terms in mind. Also, if your topic is very broad or very narrow, additional or alternative search terms will help you get better results. Background Information also helps you find more terms and understand if you are using the terms properly.
  3. Finding Articles
    Choosing where to search is at least as important as using good search terms. You also need to interpret your results, get your hands on what you've found, and refine your search if your first try didn't work quite right (which is usually doesn't).
  4. Books and Other Materials
    Sometimes you do need something other than journal articles. Books are especially good for history, background, and the 'big picture' view of a topic. You might be looking for a video demostrating or explaining a topic. Or maybe you want to do a survey, or get data from a survey or other test. This step will cover some of the other common sources of health information.

If you have trouble, contact Rebecca Hedreen, Sciences Librarian, or Lisa Bier, Social Sciences Librarian (see right column), for help.