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Health Information Sources & Searching

A guide to finding, identifying, and critically appraising health information.

Developing a Search Strategy

  1. Define your research question or topic
    • Before searching databases for health information, start by defining your research question or topic.
  2. Identify important concepts
    • Break down your research question or topic into smaller, key concepts.
    • There are many more tools to help you identify the key elements in your question or topic. These tools can also help you refine your research question.

      • PICO - Patient/Population/Problem, Intervention/Exposure, Comparator, Outcome(s)

        1. Patient/Population/Problem - What individual, group, or problem are you interested in learning more about?

        2. Intervention/Exposure - What intervention(s) or exposure(s), such as drug, therapy, or radiation are of interest?

        3. Comparator - Identify any other intervention that you want to compare. (Optional)

        4. Outcome(s) - What do you want to know about the patient/population/problem, the intervention/exposure, and if present, the comparator?

      • PCC - Population, Concept, Context

        1. Population - What individual or group are you interested in learning more about?

        2. Concept - What key element or detail is of interest?

        3. Context - What is the setting, event, or circumstance? 

  3. List synonyms and related words for each concept
    • For each concept, find related words or synonyms that describe the concept. These can be keywords and words from a controlled vocabulary source:
      • Keywords - also called “natural language” words are words or terms that you normally use when describing the topic.
      • Thesaurus words - these are words from an authoritative or reliable source. The Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) thesaurus is the National Library of Medicine’s controlled vocabulary source for medical literature.

Search Strategy in Action

Topic: Prostate cancer screening for minorities

Concept Keywords MeSH
Prostate cancer
prostate cancer OR prostate neoplasm OR prostate tumors OR prostate carcinomas OR prostatic neoplasm
"Prostatic Neoplasms"[Mesh]
screening OR detection OR tests
"Mass Screening"[Mesh] OR "Early Detection of Cancer"[Mesh]
Minorities minorities OR African Americans OR blacks OR Asians OR Hispanics OR Latinos OR Latinx "Minority Groups"[Mesh] OR "African Americans"[Mesh] OR "Asian Americans"[Mesh] OR "Hispanic Americans"[Mesh]

Visit the Database Searching Tips page to learn how to apply your concepts and terms to a database search.