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PH 206 Public Health Nutrition Core Course: Starting Your Literature Search

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guides.lib.berkeley.edu/publichealth/ph206

Michael Sholinbeck (msholinb@library.berkeley.edu)

 

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Starting the Library Research Process

What causes disease?
For any "disease" or condition, you could start by considering interactions among environmental and social factors:
Poor diet, resulting from food choices, "causes" nutritional deficiency or obesity in a population

But consider:

  • Is it "caused" by historical distribution of land use, including (in developing countries) during colonial times?
  • Or by the regulatory environment, including crop subsidies, food inspections, etc.?
  • What about the role of NGOs, IGOs, aid networks?
  • What about infrastructure, such as food distribution networks, transportation, etc.?
  • Is the status of women/girls a factor?
  • What about mental health issues?
  • What is the role of commercial activity?
  • What about the healthcare and health insurance system?

Questions, questions...

Below are some examples of questions or lines of inquiry.
Considering what question a research article addresses may help you determine if it's relevant to your needs:

  • Are their racial or ethnic disparities in type 1 diabetes mellitus prevalence?
  • Compare and contrast personal versus "upstream" factors relevant to these disparities.
  • Describe examples of things that could reduce these disparities, differentiating between personal and upstream factors. 
  • If a policy or program increases disparities, what are possible reasons for this? Differentiate between personal and systemic factors.
  • Describe a plan/program/policy to reduce these disparities.
  • Justify why systemic or upstream factors contribute more to these disparities than personal factors.

What is the question being addressed in the study you are reading? Compare:

  • "Our intervention worked toward fixing Problem X"
  • "The best intervention(s) for fixing Problem X is/are:..."

Finding a systematic review that addresses the question you are interested in can be very helpful

Structuring Your Search

It may be useful to have a structure to help guide you when searching. 

When you formulate a research question, consider these elements:

  • Phenomenon: What happened?
  • Subject or Population: Who did it?
  • Time: When did it happen?
  • Location: Where did it happen?
  • Cause or Motivation: Why did it happen?
  • Process: How did it happen?

Note: It is possible that not all of the above elements will be appropriate for your search topic.
Here is a handout (PDF) to help with this process
This exercise (PDF) will take you through the process of formulating a search

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)?
  • What's the difference between diet, food, food supply, food habits, food chain, nutritional status, eating, energy intake, ...?
  • 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
    » More information and examples under the Find Articles and More tab.
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