Library resources: The Faculty of Health Sciences

This site will provide you with information and resources on how to search and find scientific articles and other materials for research and studies in the field of health sciences. The library will also assist you in your work with systematic reviews of various kinds.

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Photo: Bernt-Erik Rossavik.

The differences between a scientific article and an article about scientific results:

General article

  • Summarizes existing knowledge on a particular topic
  • Structured looselig without a clear IMRaD structure
  • Lacks peer-review
  • Target audience is practitioners
  • May not be sufficiently documented for reproducibility

Scientific article

  • Presents new knowledge and/or empirical data
  • Structured in IMRaD and written
  • Has mandatory peer-review
  • Target audience is researchers
  • Well documented and can be reproduced

Further reading: 

What is a scientific article? 

Scientific vs. Popular vs. Trade articles 

Different kinds of scholarly articles

Primary/Original/Empirical Studies 

Empirical studies contain original research. They contain a thesis or interpretation supported by relevant data.

(Narrative) Literature review 

Literature reviews survey and analyze a clearly delaminated body of scholarly literature. There is no systematic search required and the celection of scientific articles is supportive of the research question.   

Systematic review

Maps and summarizes research articles on an entire subject area within a field of research. 

Scoping review

Maps and summarizes knowledge about a field, often within emerging topics. The material does not necessarily have to be limited to research articles.


Maps out theories and knowledge within a field, focusing on knowledge summaries.

Preparing your search by formulating a clear, well-defined, and answerable search question

Usually, the basic literature search process starts with formulating a clear, well-defined research question. Creating a clear and precise research question is essential to creating an effective search string. To ensure the best results from a literature search, your research question(s) must be well-defined and answerable. If the question is too broad, your search will yield more information than you can possibly look through. If it is a too narrow question, you might end up with no or too few results.

Create a Search Chart

Search charts serve as frameworks for developing a research question that is searchable. This tool helps you develop a well-defined and focused question that can be addressed through literature. By using search charts, you can pinpoint the key concepts in your research question, making it easier to identify terms for systematic searching in databases. Keep in mind that selecting a search chart that fits your research question might not always be straightforward. Nevertheless, the primary objective is to clarify the essential concepts in your research question and break it down so that you can extract the terms you’ll use in your search.

Overview over different search charts:


Variiation of PICO: 

  • PICO+ (adds (+) concept, patient values or preferances) 
  • PICOT (adds Time) 
  • PICOS (adds Study type) 
  • PICOC (adds til Context) 


This chart is useful for qualitative research questions related to attitudes, experiences, or expertise. SPIDER has a greater emphasis on the phenomenon being investigated rather than the intervention. A key distinction between SPIDER and other search charts lies in its use of Design OR Evaluation as a search criteria, rather than the common AND employed by other search charts. This approach helps reducing the risk of extremely limited or zero results. 

(S) AND (PI) AND (D OR E) AND (R) 

Research Question: 

«Which experiences regarding peer support do hospital nurses have?” 

  • (S) Nurses, hospital
  • (PI) Peer support
  • (D) interview
  • (E) experiences
  • (R) qualitative

In the given example, we are seeking qualitative primary studies where interviews have been conducted. 

There are additional types of search charts available, and it’s advisable to select a form that aligns with your chosen research method. 

Further reading about search charts. 

Identify a database 

For conducting your search, you will need to consult a variety of resources to find information on your topic. While some of these resources will overlap, each also contains unique information that you won’t find in other databases.   

The three of our most common databases for health sciences are: Embase, Medline, and Cinahl. They are always important to search in because they contain large numbers of citations and have a fairly broad scope. However, you must always evaluate which database suits your research question most. 

Finding Search Terms – Searching with Subject Headings and Text Words 

In databases references are tagged with standardized keywords from a list. You need to search for literature using the relevant keywords as search terms. These search terms are called subject headings. If you want to make your search more specific and accurate, you must use the controlled vocabulary, that describes the main themes in an article, within databases. A controlled vocabulary is a standardized hierarchical system. For example, PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH terms) to “map” keywords to the controlled vocabulary.  Embase’s controlled vocabulary is called Emtree, and CINAHL’s controlled vocabulary is called CINAHL Headings. Consider focusing the controlled vocabulary as the major topic when using MeSH, Emtree, or CINAHL Headings. Not all databases use a controlled vocabulary. 

In a list of subject headings, there is one selected subject heading for each concept. 

Example: In Medline, the subject heading for stroke is ‘Ischemic Attack, Transient,’ and references related to strokes should be tagged with this term. By searching for the subject heading ‘Ischemic Attack, Transient,’ we also retrieve articles where authors have chosen to use synonyms such as TIA, cerebral ischemia, transient, or brain TIA. 

IMPORTANT! As mentioned before, not all databases have subject headings. Different databases may have different subject headings. There are no subject headings for everything, and indexing (labeling) can be incomplete. 

What should you do if the research field is underexplored, new, or there are no subject headings for the field you are searching for? 

Conduct a search with text words! 

With a text word search or free-text-search, you will search within all text for the keywords you enter. In reference databases, this usually means that we do not search the entire document or article but focus on the title, abstract, and other available information about the document. Use the text word that you’ve identified from your search chart to start searching. You might start your search broadly, with just a few key words, and then add more once you see the scope of the literature. If the preliminary search doesn't produce many results, you can play with removing some key words and adding more specific detail. 

To find suitable search terms the following can be to an advantage: 

- find synonyms 

- check which words are used in subject- and research literature-slå opp i ordbøker 

- check keywords on scientific articles you already have at hand 

Preliminary Searches to gain an Overview 

Why you should conduct a preliminary search 

  • It’s essential to gain an overview of the existing research related to your topic before choosing a type of study design  
  • It will help you to identify relevant search terms for further searches 
  • Enhances your understanding of the chosen subject 
  • Provides insight into the volume of existing research on the topic 
  • Perhaps your research question needs refinement or another focus? 

NOTE! If you’re conducting a meta-analysis or systematic review, you’ll want to know if someone has already addressed your research question. In that case, you’ll need to assess whether it’s appropriate to proceed with the same question. 

Where can you perform premilinary searches? 

Basic Searching Techniques 

Boolean Operators 

The most important search technique involves using boolean operators. We distinguish between the operators “OR” to combine synonyms or alternative terms, thereby increasing the number of hits. The goal is to ensure that at least one of the terms is mentioned in an article. The other operator is “AND” which combines search terms that represent different aspects of a research question. The “AND” operator ensures that only the most specific articles are included in the search results. Consequently, you’ll get fewer hits, but they will be the most relevant based on the search terms. 

Synonyms are combined with “OR” must often be grouped within parenthesises in search fields. AND connects different parenthesises. 
Additionally, it is possible to use a third boolean operator: NOT which excludes certain search terms.  Be aware that you might accidentally oversee or exclude articles which are relevant, but since the excluded term was mentioned in an article it won’t show up in the results. Therefore, be cautious using NOT


“High infectious deseaces” NOT COVID-19 

Nurses NOT doctors. 

For more complex searches, you can structure them as follows. 

Remember to group synonyms with parentheses before combining them with “AND.” This way, the database will understand that it should first combine all terms with “OR” before further combining them with “AND.” 

Here are some examples: 

nurses AND “peer support” 

nurse OR nurses OR "nurses, hospital” 

(nurse OR nurses) AND ("peer counseling" OR "peer support" OR "peer guiding") AND (interviews OR "qualitative research") 

Phrase Searches 

If you want specific words to appear in a particular order, enclose them in quotation marks. This is important because some databases treat spaces between search terms as “AND”-operators (e.g., eating disorders => eating AND disorders). To avoid an incorrect number of hits, use quotation marks to search for multiple words together as a phrase. For instance: 

“eating disorders” 

“early mobilization” 

“quality of life” 


When a word has various endings, you can search for all variations by adding an asterisk (*). Start with the beginning of the word and add *. For example, searching for "vaccin*" will yield hits for vaccine, vaccines, vaccination, and vaccinated. 

Searching with phrases 

Most databases provide a range of options to refine and filter search results. In some databases, these features are called ‘limits’ or ‘refine results.’ Different databases may employ varying methods for narrowing down search results. Common criteria include publication year, patient age group, publication type, and language. Clinical Queries offer filters to focus on specific research methods or core questions. For example, in CINAHL, these categories encompass Therapy, Prognosis, Review, Study Designs, and Causation (Etiology). 

Systematic searches are conducted across various types of databases. The knowledge base is acquired through a literature search performed systematically, transparently, and in a repeatable manner. Consequently, thorough documentation of the process becomes especially crucial. Different types of systematic reviews encompass: 

Narrative litterature review

  • Broad, selective choices of existing literature 
  • The analysis can be chronological, conceptual, or thematic 
  • Often, this type of literature study lacks specific inclusion criteria and search strategies 
  •  Greater risk of bias 
  • Usually not exhaustive in its overview of the literature 

Integrative review/Metasynthesi

  • Similar to a systematic review, but more comprehensive and holistic in its scope 
  • Gathers studies with diverse empirical evidence, methodologies, and theories 
  • Employs clear and explicit inclusion criteria, search strategy, extraction, and analysis process" 

Scoping review 

  • Gathers a substantial volume of literature related to a specific subject area, where not all content necessarily undergoes rigorous quality assessment aka peer review 
  • Serves as a preliminary study for a systematic review 
  • Does not adhere to rigid analytical protocols 

Umbrella review 

Collects published systematic reviews and meta-analyses 

Rapid review 

  • Similar to a systematic reviews, rapid reviews are conducted within a shorter timeframe and target a more specific research question. 
  • Ensuring high-quality execution can be more demanding. 

Further reading: Types of Reviews 

Not sure what kind of review you should conduct? Then take a look at this chart!

After choosing the best suited type of review, you can develop a search strategy. 

The search process as such always starts with defining inclusion- and exclusion criteria. Then create your search chart before choosing and conducting your search. The major and most important difference between systematic searches and literature searches for background literature is that systematic reviews demand a high level and thorough documentation of your search process. The documentation is necessary to ensure higher quality, transparency and reproducibility of your study.  

How to document your seaches for reviews 

You must always document your research process, when and where you have conducted a search-string and which search terms you have selected and why. This will ensure the required transparency, quality assessment and the reproductivity of your search. Once you have done a search and selected documents, you should copy your search history or write down what you have done. The re-construction of a search-string later on in the work progress is impossible. Even the library cannot assist you with re-constructing your searches and results, because we cannot be sure what you’ve done previously. Additionally, it would not be ethically correct. If you document all your work correctly and extensively, it will be easier for the library to assist you when you want to update a search-string for further research. 

Forms and charts that might help you to document your searches: 

Other considerations: 

  • Create a personal account in EBSCO Host and Ovid 
  • Save search histories and get notifications when new documents are published within your search-string 
  • Mass-export to reference management systems such as Zotero or EndNote. You will also be able to dedublicate references from your library. 
  • Use AI-tools to screen your results e.g. Rayyan or Covidence  

Clinical encyclopedias:  

Kunnskapsbaserte retningslinjer og fagprosedyrer 

Systematiske reviews 

Statstical data 

More useful resources for studies and research 

Contact us:

Research Librarian
KE A-260
Division of Research
Stavanger University Library
Research Librarian
Division of Research
Stavanger University Library

Classes from the library

Shut up & write for PhDs

Thu. 20.06.2024


Universitetsbiblioteket, Studieverkstedet

Shut up & write for PhDs

Thu. 04.07.2024


Universitetsbiblioteket, Studieverkstedet

Introduction to Zotero

Tue. 03.09.2024


The Ullandhaug Library
KE A-253

Webinar: Introduction to Zotero

Tue. 17.09.2024


Language: English

Introduction to Zotero

Mon. 23.09.2024


The Ullandhaug Library
KE A-253
Borrow a librarian

Faculty, PhD and master students can schedule an appointment for guidance in literature search or systematic searching.

The library collection

Is something missing in the library? Suggest literature or subscriptions for the library collection, and we will consider buying it.


The library has access to many databases that give you access to literature in the field of health.

In Oria, you will find an overview of databases relevant in nursing, health sciences, substance abuse, and mental health. Some of the databases are openly available, but you need library remote access.

Please contact us by email if you need help.


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