Search for Answers
are many free, high quality databases of journal articles that are valuable when searching for public health information. PubMed is probably the most important, although there are many other, more specialized databases which might prove vital to researching your subject area. For example, ERIC, which stands for Education Resources Information Center, covers the education literature; Popline covers the population and reproductive health literature, and Agricola, from the US Department of Agriculture, covers the agriculture literature, including food and human nutrition.
If you are affiliated with a library, you should check its web site or contact a librarian to see what additional databases are available to you. This includes your state or local public library, which may provide you with free remote access to some high quality interdisciplinary databases and full text journals. In the state of Michigan, all residents have access to the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) databases.
Each database is unique and you should spend some time reading Help pages before you begin your search. Some features that you should look for include:
- Truncation, which allows you to search for the root of a word and retrieve articles which include that word with all possible endings. For example, truncating the term elder will retrieve elder, elders, and elderly.
- Boolean operators, such as And, Or, and Not, allow you to construct fairly complex search queries, generally in conjunction with the use of parentheses to nest terms together logically. An example of a search using Boolean operators is: (elderly OR aged OR seniors) AND (fitness OR exercise).
- Limits, which can narrow and focus your search in a variety of ways, including by age, sex, geographic location, research methodology, and more.
- A controlled vocabulary, which can help ensure that your search is as comprehensive as possible. A controlled vocabulary is a thesaurus of specifically defined terms which are used to describe the topics covered by each article. For example, a resource might use the term Chronic Disease regardless of whether the author uses the term chronic diseases, chronic illness, or chronically ill. A controlled vocabulary allows you to search using one term and find all articles which are on that topic. The alternative is to enter every possible synonym and spelling, in hopes of anticipating the specific words that an author will use in the title or abstract of their paper.