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PH 292: MCH Journal Club: Library Research & Evaluation


Guide URL:   

Presented by Karen Andrews (

Feel free to contact me with questions or for an appointment.  Or, drop by the Public Health Library!

Also see our MCH Library Guide for more resources, such as statistics, publications, and organizations.

Starting the Library Research Process

Is your topic researchable? 

  • "Harmful fetal effects of beer consumption by pregnant students at college athletic events" 
  • "Determinants of binge drinking among female college students in the United States" 
  • "Alcohol consumption by young adults"

Think about your topic

  • What terms encapsulate your topic?
  • Are there synonyms?

Let's talk about indexing! 

  • Do you want articles on labor or articles on labor? Or is it labour
  • Do you want articles on HIV (a virus) or articles on HIV diseases (such as AIDS)? 
  •  Is epidemiology a concept relating to the causes and distribution of diseases, or is it what epidemiologists do? 
  •  Is lead a noun or a verb?

Indexing facilitates more precise search statements, especially for topics that are vague or ambiguous.

  • Using index terms also helps you avoid the need to think of every possible synonym or alternate spelling of your search terms.
  • Indexing means the citations in the database are assigned terms from a controlled vocabulary (Not all databases use a controlled vocabulary, however)
  • Index terms are sometimes called descriptors or thesaurus terms; in PubMed they are called Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH 


What is Evidence?

Things to keep in mind:

  • All research is (potentially) "evidence" and there are no "perfect" studies.
  • Is there an agenda (bias)? 
    • It's doubtful that any study of humans is totally without some kind of bias, either in the study design, or in the author's pre-existing beliefs, not to mention the source of the research funds. How bias in methodology was controlled and the significance of bias in any particular study is what's relevant.
  • Is qualitative research "evidence"? 
    • If your goal is to understand beliefs and meanings in the group with whom you are working, then qualitative studies can be important.

What to Consider When Looking at Survey or Estimated Data

  • Look at sample sizes and survey response rates
    • Representative of your population?
    • Enough responses to be valid?
  • Who was surveyed?
    • Representative of population being compared to?
    • Include group you are interested in?
    • Were the survey respondents from heterogeneous groups?
    • Do the survey questions mean the same things to members of different groups?
  • How was survey conducted?
  • What assumptions and methods were used for extrapolating the data?
    • Is there any bias?
    • Is the method appropriate?
  • Look at definitions of characteristics
    • Does this match your own definitions?
  • When was the data collected?
    • How old is too old?

Reliability and validity

Reliable data collection: relatively free from "measurement error." 

  • Is the survey written at a reading level too high for the people completing it? 

Validity refers to how well a measure assesses what it claims to measure 

  • If the survey is supposed to measure "quality of life," how is that concept defined?

Adapted from Chapter 3, Conducting research literature reviews : from the Internet to paper, by Arlene Fink,  2010. 

Literature Review Matrix

The Literature Review Matrix (below) may help you organize what you find in your literature search. This matrix is a simplified version from Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy (see book below). Older editions of this book are available at the Public Health Library, Optometry Library, and the Social Research Library.

Books to Help Evaluate the Evidence

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