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Many DrPH Competencies include skills that the library can help you with:
"The ability to ... explore, describe, and analyze public health problems at an advanced level; synthesize and apply evidence-based research ... and critically review relevant literature."
"The ability to ... use critical evaluation, applied research methodology, and statistical methods effectively."
"The ability to articulate the breadth and depth of social, economic, and health inequities..."
All of the above require you to be able to:
» effectively and efficiently search the scientific literature;
» determine how a particular study fits in the body of knowledge on a topic and discover trends;
» evaluate the quality of any particular study; and
» know how to find statistical and other information that supports or refutes the conclusions of a study.
What causes disease?
How you conceptualize your topic affects how you search for relevant information.
Consider first perhaps the interaction of environmental factors (eg, pollution, outbreaks) and social factors (eg, smoking, drug use). You may also wish to consider other aspects of your topic.
Think about the wider context of your topic. Do some preliminary exploration, both in the literature and in discussions with your teachers, advisors, and peers. What are the relevant scientific and policy circumstances?
Always keep in mind the question you are trying to answer
What is the scope of your search?
Literature searching always involves balancing finding all relevant citations (which means you may also find many non-relevant citations) with finding only relevant citations (which means you may miss some relevant citations).
The search scope, as well as the purpose and audience of your literature search, influences how you focus your search when using online databases, as well as when you decide you have "enough."
Remember that research is not a linear process; you may find yourself modifying your search terms as you explore your topic.
Which disciplines are concerned with your topic? Which aspect(s) - legal, political, environmental, behavioral etc. - of your topic is/are of interest?
Answering these questions will help you decide which databases to search for literature. Although PubMed may be the best place to start for most public health topics, you may miss key literature if you do not use other resources.
The importance of indexing
It may be useful to have a structure to help guide you when searching.
When you formulate a research question, consider these elements:
Note: It is possible that not all of the above elements will be appropriate for your search topic.
This exercise (docx) will take you through the process of formulating a search
PICO is another popular way to structure a search.
PICO stands for Patient or Population; Intervention; Comparison or Control; Outcome.
Embase has a PICO Search option.
Considering the question a research article addresses may help you determine if it's relevant to your needs.
Below are some examples of questions or lines of inquiry:
Compare these two questions, to help evaluate any intervention studies you read:
Finding a systematic review that addresses the question you are interested in can be very helpful
Evaluation is about determining the quality, value, or importance of something in order to take action. It is underpinned by the systematic collection of information and evidence.
What is evidence? Things to keep in mind:
Things to consider:
Who pays for science?
Most scientific research is funded by government, companies doing research and development, and non-profit entities. Because science is attempting to get at some "truth," the source of research funding shouldn't have a significant effect on the outcome of scientific research, right?
» Read Industry sponsorship and research outcome Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Feb 16;2:MR000033).
» Read Food Politics, a blog by Marion Nestle that often addresses the issues of industry sponsored research
Is it race? or is it racism?
Race is a sociological construct, yet most articles describing racial disparities ascribe them to race, not to racism.
» Read NIH must confront the use of race in science (Science 2020;369(6509):1313-1314)
Peer review refers to a process whereby scholarly work (ie, an article) is reviewed and critiqued by experts to ensure it meets some standards of acceptance before it is published.
Does this process make for better science?
» Read Editorial peer review for improving the quality of reports of biomedical studies (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Apr 18;(2):MR000016)
This article (PDF) discusses the "manufactured uncertainty" created by industry groups that sponsor research and publishing on chemicals.
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.
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?
» If I measure something today, then measure it again tomorrow using the same scale, will it vary? Why?
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? Is it measurable?
(Adopted from Chapter 3, Conducting research literature reviews : from the Internet to paper, by Arlene Fink; Sage, 2010.)
What to consider when looking at survey or estimated data:
What else does a DrPH student need in the world of information resources?
What about information on program development & evaluation?
»The Community Toolbox
»2010 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation (National Science Foundation)
What about help with academic writing?
»Graduate Writing Center (UCB Grad Division): help on grant proposals, dissertation writing, and more