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NTR 351: Nutrition and Health Communications: Find Articles: Research Databases & Searching Strategies

How to tell if a journal is peer reviewed

  1. Go to Ulrichs Web - a Research Database with information about journals and other publications
  2. Search for the journal title that your article was published in (for example: BMC Medicine)
  3. Look for this image next to the journal title:
    • This image indicates that the journal is 'Refereed,' another term that means 'Peer-Reviewed.'

For more information on peer-reviewed articles, see:

ASU Library Peer-Reviewed/Refereed Articles Self-Paced Tutorial

Research Databases

Searching Tips

PubMed: The primary open access research database for the medical and health sciences fields.  Open access searching interface for 'Medline.'  Includes references from several hundred nursing journals.

CINAHL: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature. Leading research from publications in the fields of nursing and allied health from 1982 to the present.

PsycINFO: Provides access to international literature in psychology and related disciplines. All records from 1967 to the present are indexed using the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms.

ERIC (via CSA Ilumina): Premier U.S. database of education literature. Sponsored by the US Department of Education. Includes journal (EJ) and ERIC Document (ED) citations with abstracts; full text of ERIC Documents from 1993 to present.

Searching for Research Studies on a Topic

Think of a health news article that you've read recently on a topic that interests you.  Or, use one of today's example news articles.  As a Nutrition researcher, you can explore studies on this topic by searching in research databases.  Start with your topic of interest and work with a partner or on your own to answer the questions below.

You try it!

Choose one of the topics above or use your own research question:

1) What keywords will you use to search?

2) What synonyms can you think of for those keywords?

3) Try out a search in PubMed or another Research Database

4) Did you get some good results?  If not, what other keywords and/or search strategies could you use?

5) When you see some good results, what "MeSH" (Medical Subject Headings) or other terminology do you see in the best, most relevant results?

6) Try another search using some of the keywords, subject headings, or terminology you've noticed.  How are your results now?

7) Out of all your search results, choose the article you think best fits your topic, and that is a recently published research study article - one whose abstract describes the study's Methodology, Results, and Discussion or Conclusion. 

8) How can you get the full text of the article you found?

9) Is your article from a peer-reviewed journal?

10) Write (or type) a citation for your article using a citation style of your choice.

Questions?  Problems?

  Contact your Health Sciences Librarian, or use Ask A Librarian!

Share your research tips!

Text the number below or use this link: 


Citation Styles for Nutrition

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) Style Guide information

American Medical Association Style Guide

  • 10th Edition available in print in the Reference area of ASU Library's Downtown, Polytechnic, West, and Noble Science (Tempe campus) Libraries.  See the online library catalog record for this book's call number.

Get to know 2 research databases for Health Sciences research

View the 2 videos below to see examples of keyword searching in 2 major Health Sciences research databases: PubMed and CINAHL.

In each video, Look for:

  1. How do you use keywords to search each database?
  2. How can you use synonyms to expand your first keyword search?
  3. How can you limit your search results using categories like: publication date, gender, or article type?
  4. How can you get to full text of an article showing in your search results?


PubMed Keyword searching via YouTube: http://youtu.be/GcOPnx0d0xY


CINAHL Keyword searching via YouTubehttp://youtu.be/Ad_Q5vYYg_4

Search Strategies - Examples with PubMed

Below are four major search strategies that you can use to systematically search across multiple databases, although the example below is from a PubMed search.  Doing so will ensure with reasonable certainty that you do not miss important, relevant research on your topic.  The example PICO (Research) question was chosen to illustrate the effectiveness and strengths of each search strategy since examples relevant to this topic are retrieved using each strategy in PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane, and PsycInfo.

*Examples below refer to searching in PubMed, but the same methods can be used in other databases

**If using CINAHL for a Keyword Search, un-check the 'Suggest Subject Headings' box above the search boxes - then type in your Keywords and search

General Searching Tips for most research databases, including PubMed:

  • Use " " to search for a specific phrase like "electronic health records"
  • Use * to get all forms of a word: child* = child, children, childhood
  • Use ( ) with OR between synonyms to group synonyms for expanded searching: (AZ OR Arizona)
  • Use AND between synonym groups to add groups together in keyword searching: (AZ OR Arizona) AND (child* OR adolescen* OR teen*)


4 Search Strategies

Start with your topic statement, or with a Research or PICO Question

The examples below start with this research question or 'PICO question' (P=Problem/Popluation, I=Intervention/proposed solution, C=Comparison (optional alternate intervention or solution), O=desired Outcome) as a starting point

  • Does eating dinner as a family help prevent childhood obesity?

Use the 2 Broad Strategies  - Keyword and Keyword with Synonyms

  • Get a Snap Shot of a Research Database: how much and what type of material does it have on your topic?
  • Broaden your initial search with synonym groups to get more results

Use the 2 Targeted Strategies - Keyword in Title and Subject Heading

  • Focus in on the most relevant results for your topic and use these to discover database Subject Heading tags that can match you to articles that have major coverage of a topic - regardless of the phrasing or keyword terms used by each individual author
  • Use Subject Headings tags to discover articles that have major coverage of a topic - regardless of the phrasing or keyword terms used by each individual author in their title or abstract


2 Broad Strategies

  • Keyword
    • Pull out the major concepts from your topic or research question and connect them with AND
    • Example: family dinner AND childhood obesity


  • Keyword with Synonyms
    • Think of synonyms and different word forms for each of your keyword concepts.  For example, synonyms or other word forms for falls include: falling, balance
    • Create a new, more complex keyword searching by creating synonym groups using () around each group
    • Use OR between each synonym or word form in the ()
    • Use AND between each () group
    • Example: (family OR families) AND (dinner OR meal OR meals) AND childhood obesity


2 Targeted Strategies

  • Keyword in Title
    • Article Titles often contain the main ideas of an article's content - so finding results with your keywords in the article title will often increase the relevance of results for your topic
      • *One Disadvantage is that searching for keywords in the title will *not* find all things that will be useful, but it's a good way to focus in and discover some excellent results that can help you further define your topic and give you ideas for more specific keywords or Subject Headings tags that you can use in other ways to get more results that are still more relevant.
    • Use your synonym search
    • Add the code: [ti] or [title] after each keyword
      • In this case, childhood obesity is so specific as a phrase, I left it as keywords only, and only added the code to search the title after the other keywords
    • Example: (family[ti] OR families[ti]) AND (dinner[ti] OR meal[ti] OR meals[ti]) AND childhood obesity

    • Other databases' Advanced Search mode
      • You may be able to use the dropdown to the left or right of a search box to choose the field you search, such as 'TITLE' or 'ARTICLE TITLE' or 'ABSTRACT' instead of the default which is often 'ALL Fields' or 'Select a Field,' etc.
      • Use separate rows if you like to help you structure the search (you may or may not need to use () if you use separate rows):
      • With some research databases, you may need to use () around more than one synonym with 'OR' between them to the database that you want any word within each group, and you want at least 1 word from each group. 
    • *Identify Subject Headings for a Subject Headings search!
      • Results from a Keyword in Title search are often a great place to look for ideas of Subject Headings to use
      • Subject Headings are specific words or phrases that database employees use to tag articles that have content focused on a particular topic, **regardless of how the author/s of the article describe the topic.
        • Subject Headings connect you to results relevant to your topic, even if you don't think of all the different words (keywords) that someone might use to describe the topic 
      • Once you identify some useful Subject Headings, you can use them for a Subject Headings search
  • Subject Headings
    • Subject Headings connect you to results relevant to your topic, even if you don't think of all the different words (keywords) that someone might use to describe the topic 
    • Use Mesh Headings, Medical Subject Headings in PubMed (or 'subject headings' if in another research database) that you saw in the results of your other searches
      • Example: In records for our earlier searches, we could see the following MeSH subject headings
        • Obesity
        • Meals
        • Family
    • Add the code: [mh] or [mesh] after each heading
    • Example: Obesity[mh] AND Meals[mh] AND Family[mh]


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