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Medical Laboratory Science: Finding Information

Resources relating to health and medical-related sciences and specifically for students intending to work in diagnostic pathology laboratories, medical research, and the medical or allied health care profession.

Developing a Search Strategy

Developing a search strategy is an important step in conducting research, whether you are using Library Search, a database, or even Google.

Think about the best keywords or search terms to use before beginning your search. Think about the main ideas, and what the assignment question is asking you to do. A handy tip is to write down ideas for search terms as you go. These may change as you undertake your search.

Here's an example of a search strategy being developed:

  1. Example of an assignment question – “Discuss potential health promotion strategies in relation to reducing the incidence of smoking during pregnancy”.
  2. Write down the main concepts – health promotion, smoking, pregnancy.
  3. Think about similar words that describe what you have written, eg. tobacco, gestation.
  4. Combine these search terms to make a search phrase using AND and OR (also known as Boolean operators), eg. (smoking OR tobacco) AND (pregnancy OR gestation).
  5. Quotation marks (“”) can be used to look for specific phrases, such as “health promotion” AND smoking AND pregnancy.
  6. Truncation can also make searches more effective. By using a truncation symbol – * in most databases or $ in the Library catalogue – you can search for variations on a word, eg. smok* will find all words beginning with smok (smoke, smoking, smoker).
  7. Test the search by typing your search phrase into Library Search or one of CDU Library’s medical/health databases’ search box/es.
  8. Limiters within the search tool or database can help reduce the number of results and make them more relevant, eg. restrict your search to scholarly/peer-reviewed articles, to full-text articles only, or search for articles publishes within a particular timeframe (eg. 2002-2012).

Activity: Work through the section of Health Online that deals with search strategies:

The attached presentation (see below) demonstrates how to develop a search strategy using AND and OR, as well as using synonyms and truncation for effective searching.

Choosing the Best Database

Library Search is a simple way to search for information resources, including journal articles. But sometimes you will need to use the additional, discipline-specific features provided by specialist databases to find the information that you need for your assignments.

  • Not all of the resources in specialist databases can be found using Library Search.

Subject-specific databases are ideal for searching the journal literature because they are tailored to a particular discipline, and therefore provide the ability to narrow your search in ways that wouldn't be possible in a general database or search tool like Library Search. For example, in a medical database you can limit to clinical trials, or to age groups studied, or to evidence-based practice.

Databases vary in content and may include more than just journal articles. For example, systematic reviews, conference proceedings, book chapters, patient information sheets, theses, or drug information may also be covered.

On the first tab (home page) of the Medical Laboratory Science LibGuide, you will find descriptions and links to some of the most popular and relevant databases you are likely to use during your studies. They vary from each other on subject area, coverage, content types, geographical location, etc - so consider which database/s will be most likely to contain the kind of information you're looking for.

Google Scholar for CDU

Change your settings so that Find it @ CDU links automatically appear within Google Scholar in your search results:

1. Click the three horizontal lines (top left) then go to Settings (the cog at the bottom of the list)

2. Click Library links

3. Type in Charles Darwin University and click the search button

4. Tick Charles Darwin University - Find it @ CDU

If you use EndNote, under Bibliography Manager, select EndNote

Click Save

To retain these settings, you must turn on cookies in your browser settings

Charles Darwin University Library links automatically appear when you search Google Scholar on campus.

Alternatively, view this short video on YouTube to set up your preferences.
Google Scholar Search

Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Articles

In the course of your studies, you will sometimes be required by your lecturer to use scholarly, peer-reviewed information resources. This is work that has been written by researchers and academics, and has been through a rigorous selection process prior to publication.

The peer-review process occurs when articles submitted for publication in scholarly journals are reviewed by experts in the same field. The submitted article is assessed for the quality of the research, the relevance and validity of the conclusions drawn, accuracy of statistics or calculations, etc. The author of the article may be asked to make changes to their article and re-submit it for review. Once the panel of experts agree that the article is up to scratch, it will be published and made available to the rest of the scholarly community.

When looking for journal articles for assignments, you can limit your searches to scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles using the refining options available in Library Search (left hand side of the results screen) and library databases (check the advanced search options).

If you already have some articles that you want to check, you can use Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory to find out if a journal is peer reviewed. Just type in the journal title (eg. Medical Journal of Australia) – not the article title – and you will be able to see if the journal is peer-reviewed by the little referee jumper symbol next to the title (peer-reviewed journals are sometimes called refereed journals).

Evaluating Online Resources

Searching for your keywords in Google will usually come up with lots and lots of results. But are they suitable to use as an information source (and reference) in academic assignments?

Use these evaluation criteria to assess online resources

  • Validity and accuracy - What evidence is provided to support the conclusions? Are facts/figures/dates used and cited appropriately? Does the author include references?
  • Authority - Who is the author? What are his/her qualifications and experience?
  • Affiliation - Is the author affiliated with an organisation, and if so what type of organisation? What type of web domain is used?
  • Purpose and objectivity - Is the information biased, or based on opinion? What are the aims of the website or publication?
  • Audience - Is the information intended for researchers, practitioners or the general public? Is it relevant to Australian readers?
  • Currency - How up to date is the information? When was the information published, or last updated?
  • Uniqueness - Could this information be located in other, perhaps more reputable, sources?
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