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—with Jessica Bell


Although most of us have had some experience obtaining references for term papers or assignments, technology has forever changed how we locate information, how quickly we want it, and the volume of data available. Clinicians often go to the literature to stay on top of scientific advances as part of professional development, or they may gather evidence specific to a patient for clinical decision-making. Researchers will review the literature to build the rationale for a study and to help interpret findings. This process, of course, assumes that we can locate and retrieve the relevant research literature. The purpose of this chapter is to describe strategies for successful literature searches that will serve the full range of information-seeking needs to support evidence-based practice (EBP).

Where We Find Evidence

We can think of “literature” broadly to include all scholarly products, including original research articles, editorials and position papers, reviews and meta-analyses, books and dissertations, conference proceedings and abstracts, and website materials.

Scientific Journals

When we think of searching for information in the health sciences, we typically will turn first to published journal articles. Thousands of journals are published by professional associations, societies or academies of practice, and other special interest groups, each with a specific disciplinary or content focus.

Most of these journals are peer reviewed, which means that manuscripts are scrutinized by experts before they are accepted for publication to assure a level of quality. It is important to appreciate this process, as it may have implications for the quality and validity of papers that we read.


Scientific magazines are periodicals that include opinion pieces, news, information on policy, and reports of popular interest. These publications are often read by the public or by professionals from a particular field. Magazine pieces are not peer reviewed, do not generally contain primary research reports, and may present biased views. Most professional associations publish magazines that provide useful summaries of published studies or industry information that can give direction to further searching.

Government and Professional Websites

Government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, hospitals, advocacy organizations, and professional associations are eager to share the information and knowledge they have acquired, and frequently do so on their websites. Those sites are easily discoverable with a few well-worded searches in a Web search engine. A close examination of the source is always recommended to ensure its authority and accuracy of the information provided.

Grey Literature

Many useful sources of information can be found in what is called the grey literature, which is anything not produced by a commercial publisher. Government documents, reports, fact sheets, practice guidelines, conference proceedings, and theses or dissertations are some ...

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