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Internal Medicine Residency Resource Guide: Searching the Evidence

Major Steps in a Search

  1. Create a well-defined question [PICO]
  2. Brainstorm and gather synonyms
  3. Construct the search strategy
  4. Select database(s)
  5. Tailor search strategy to database(s)
  6. Save search & export results to reference manager

Gather Synonyms

Think broadly and abstractly!

  • Terms with the same meaning
    • Hypertension/High blood pressure
  • Terms with alternate spellings
    • Leukemia/Leukaemia
  • Complex concepts described inconsistently
    • Long-term, patient-reported satisfaction…/Patients’ experiences with…
  • Umbrella terms and specific names
    • Sexually transmitted disease/genital warts, syphilis
  • Keywords and database-specific subject terms
    • Cancer, tumor/Neoplasm (MeSH)

Construct Search Strategies

Construct search by combining concepts with Boolean operators. Use keywords and subject terms in combination.

Boolean Logic Operators:

AND limits results, both concepts stoma AND bowel cancer
OR more results, either concept stoma OR colostomy
NOT excludes concept(s) from results java NOT coffee


Tailor Search Strategy to the Database

Illustration of a woman wearing glasses with her hair pulled back in a bun. She is holding an oversized magnifying glass and has a question mark over hear head.Understand different vendor interfaces

  • EBSCO publishes CINAHL and PsycINFO
  • Elsevier publishes Scopus
  • Medline is part of PubMed

Differentiate between keywords and subject headings

  • PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  • Scopus only uses keywords
  • CINAHL uses subject headings

Know if the content is peer-reviewed

  • Medline = all peer-reviewed
  • CINAHL and PubMed include non-peer-reviewed material

Different databases, different subject headings

Learn More

Visual Queue for AND OR NOT Boolean Operators

What are Boolean Operators?

Boolean operators connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your results in a database (like PubMed) or search engine (like Google Scholar).

Boolean operators are the words "AND", "OR" and "NOT".

Learn More

Prefer video? Watch Boolean Operators by University of Essex Library

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Grey Lit Searching

What is Grey Lit?

Grey literature is information produced outside of traditional publishing and distribution channels. It can include reports, policy literature, working papers, newsletters, government documents, speeches, white papers, urban plans, etc.

Organizations that produce grey literature include government departments and agencies, civil society or non-governmental organizations, academic centers, and private companies and consultants.


Open access system in Europe which contains grey literature bibliographical references produced in Europe.

  • Includes technical or research reports, doctoral dissertations, some conference papers, some official publications, and other types of grey literature
  • Covers science, technology, biomedical science, economics, social science and humanities

Grey Literature Report

Bimonthly publication of The New York Academy of Medicine produced between 1999-2016 (discontinued January 2017)

  • Contains grey literature publications in health services research and selected urban health topics
  • Cataloged and indexed using MeSH

Understand MeSH

What is MeSH?

The Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) is a comprehensive controlled vocabulary for the purpose of indexing journal articles and books in the life sciences. It serves as a thesaurus that helps with searching.

Learn More

Take the National Institutes of Health's interactive tutorial on MeSH


Learn more about Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)