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The EBM Medical Literature Search

ACQUIRE the Right Articles

Basic & Advanced search strategies are used in literature searches to align your PICO question to the results you hope to get back in order to answer it. 

Preparing A Search Strategy

Databases function differently than a Google search engine and will require a different approach. That is where your  key words and synonyms come into play. 

With a basic Keyword search, you are simply taking the most relevant details of your question and entering them into the search field. Advance searching combines keywords with techniques such as Boolean Operators & nesting. 


In children, what is the effect of duct tape on warts compared with cryotherapy?  

  • Keywords: children duct tape, warts, cryotheraphy  
    • Basic Search: children AND "duct tape" AND warts AND cryotherapy
    • Advanced: (children AND warts) AND  ("duct tape"  OR cyrotherapy) 

Note that simple and advanced searching will bring back different results based on order of operations. See  "nesting" in advanced searching for more information. 

Some databases, such as Pubmed and Embase, use automatic term mapping and Emtree (respectively) to provide synonyms. Other sources you may search will not and it is important to consider alternative spellings and terms, as authors may vary wording but retain the same concept. 

Some examples are below:

  • Adolescent/ Youth
  • Heart Failure/ Myocardial Infarctions/ Heart Attack
  • Benign/ Non-malignant/ Non-cancerous 
  • Child/ Children/ Girl/ Boy

 If you choose not to consult a thesaurus before searching, keep a watchful eye for alternative terms while you search the literature. Make a note of them so you can decide later if you would like to adjust your search to include them. 

Image use of Wimbley & his punny joke magnanimously granted by the great King Bean. | 

FAU provides access to Endnote Web via Web of Science. For details and additional reference management, see the guide below: 

Decide Where to Search

The sources you consult will depend largely on your question. FAU has many databases and journals available but there also may be useful sources that are not within our collection ( e.g. resources available through lenders within other libraries participating in ILL [Interlibrary Loan]; Open Access resources; and gray literature not in the FAU collection.) 

Something else to consider while thinking about the resources you consult: are you asking a background or foreground question? 


Background Questions

  • Seeks general medical knowledge.
  • Are asking "who, what, when, where, how, or why"?
    • I.e. "What causes migraines?"
    • I.e. "How much weight is considered slightly obese for my patient?"

Information for background questions can be found in textbooks, dictionaries, and review articles. 

Foreground Questions

  • Seeks specific clinical knowledge
    • I.e. "In pediatric patients with Allergic Rhinitis, are Intranasal steroids more effective than antihistamines in the management of Allergic Rhinitis symptoms?"

Information for foreground questions can be found in POC sources and medical databases (such as Medline, Embase, Cochrane, TRIP, etc.)


Databases are a great option to turn to first but can vary widely on content. Become familiar with the FAU available medical databases with the Database Quick Reference.  

Some things to consider when choosing a database:

  • Is the database more clinically or research focused? 
  • Does your question ask a non-medical component?
    • Would an education, social science, or health science database be useful? 
      • Narrow the libraries'  A-Z databases by subject to discover additional resources. 
  • Are provided articles peer-reviewed?
    • Is there an option to select a peer-reviewed filter? 

You can incorporate specific journals into your search strategy. Sometimes there may be a prominent journal in your field that you already know or you discover one while you searched the databases. You can also choose to browse the FAU Electronic journals to check if there are any that may fit your topic. 

Some things to consider when choosing a journal: 

  • What years does it cover? 
    • If you find a citation that falls outside FAU holdings, you can place an ILL request for the article. Turn around time varies from a few hours to weeks depending on where the article is fulfilled. 
  • If the journal is not in FAU holdings, is it a scholarly journal? 
  •  If the journal is not in FAU holdings, have you investigated the journal for predatory characteristics? (see: "Predatory or Deceptive Publishers" tab within the guide linked below) 

SPARC's definition of Open Access is as follows: 

" Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access ensures that anyone can access and use these results—to turn ideas into industries and breakthroughs into better lives."


FAU resources:


General Resources:

  • Biomed Central
  • DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Elsevier: Open Access Journal
  • Free Medical Journals
  • Open Access Journals
  • OAJSE: Open Access Journals Search Engine
  • Pubmed Central / Pubmed
    • Note: Pubmed Central features free full text articles. This differs from Pubmed, as Pubmed is a more comprehensive citation site that links content to Pubmed Central, publisher websites, or the FAU collection (provided you are either on campus or logged into EZ Proxy/ Off-Campus Connect.) If you utilize Pubmed for Open Access, use a "text availability" filter to view only free full text. Alternatively results will display a brown "Free article" logo next to the PMID number that can be looked for within the results page.
  • ROAR (Registry of Open Access Respositories) 
  • Science Direct
  • World Bank Open Data
    • (View Indicators to access Health.) 

While you will not be "searching" ILL, per se, you may have to utilize the library's Interlibrary Loan service at some point in your search. If you haven't already, make a FREE account using your FAU NetID: click HERE. If you experience issues with placing a request, please contact Tiffany Follin for assistance. 

ILL is able to borrow material from over 3,600 libraries across the world, and the cost to bring in an item is typically covered by the FAU Libraries. There are a couple things to keep in mind when utilizing ILL in your search and considering your timeline:

  • Articles typically take 2 or more business days to arrive. 
  • With the introduction of Rapid Delivery, articles now have the potential to arrive within the same business day, but please note that this is not a guarantee. 
  • Occasionally an article is only available through an international lender. Depending on the lender's country copyright law, the article may take longer to process and arrive as it may need to be sent as a hardcopy. 
  • Adjust your "not wanted after date." This lets the ILL staff know how long to work on your request. This date defaults to one month, however whether you need something within two weeks or have two months to research, it is important to note this so that your request has the best chance of being filled within the timeframe you need it.  


Two videos, below, have been created by the ILL department to demonstrate how to place ILL and UBorrow requests. 

  • Interlibrary Loan: Darth Slitherous is in need of material not at FAU. Before lashing out with the Dark side of the Force in frustration, fate (AKA a librarian) intervenes: do or do not use ILL, there is no try. 
  • UBorrow: Colin Sprout searches for a Harry Potter title but finds an empty spot on the shelf. What's a student to do? Accio UBorrow! if only it was as easy to Accio back those 15 points he lost for House Hufflepuff. 

The definition of grey literature, as agreed upon at the Twelfth International Conference on Grey Literature in Prague in 2010, is as follows:

"Grey literature stands for manifold document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights, of sufficient quality to be collected and preserved by libraries and institutional repositories, but not controlled by commercial publishers; i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body."

Some examples are below:

  • Reports 
  • Working papers
  • Thesis papers
  • Conference proceedings
  • Government documents
  • Policy documents
  • Newsletters
  • Recommendations and technical standards
  • Field notes

Note: the strategy to find gray literature will be different as resources are not typically contained within a database. Start broad and slowly narrow your search as needed. 

FAU databases for gray literature

A selection of public resources for gray literature:

If Google Scholar is your preferred search site, remember to sign into EZProxy first if you are off campus, or use the link above. Your search results will display citation counts (provided via the Web of Science database), and the "Find it @FAU" link will link directly to FAU subscribed resources. 


Google Scholar article example: 

Last updated on Apr 23, 2024 3:12 PM