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The Graduate Health & Life Sciences Research Library at Georgetown University Medical Center

Research in the Health Sciences

Working through the research process involves many integrated steps: creating a research question, performing a literature review, submitting IRB forms, gaining funding, analyzing results, and publishing. We have resources and services to help!

Lit Review Reference Shelf

Conducting a Literature Review

Regardless of what type of study you plan to conduct, a Literature Review is essential in preparing for credible research. Below, you'll find one basic outline of the process, complete with tips. Remember, this process can always be simplified by involving a librarian, especially if you're conducting an in-depth literature search for a systematic review.

  1. Divide your topic into distinct concepts. This allows you to organize categories and brainstorm search terms. Employing the PICO (Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) model, used in various areas of health sciences education, can help identify and organize concepts.

  2. Come up with initial keywords for the concepts, marking the most applicable. Some people like to employ a list format, but others prefer a grid. Determine your scope - it's important to decide how exact results need to be for inclusion.

  3. If you already have a few appropriate articles, scour them for more keywords. Next, use the bibliographies from these articles and mark potentially helpful sources. Repeat this step after you find other useful articles.

  4. Determine appropriate databases to search - for most health research, investigators will employ MEDLINE, Embase, and ScienceDirect, but be sure to check other subject-specific databases such as PsycINFO, CINAHL, Ageline, and AMED. Consult with a librarian for ideas on potential databases.

  5. Create a search strategy, including subject terms specific to the particular database as well as the keywords you listed before. Most researchers first conduct a 'discovery' search in order to gather subject terms and determine relevancy. When searching these terms, you would want to add them to your term list (or grid), noting the database where they were found. Employ useful limits (language, year range, study type) to reduce the number of articles you need to review.

  6. Save your search strategy so you don't have to re-create it later! Most databases allow you to create individual accounts within Georgetown's umbrella account, so you can easily access your searches.

  7. Repeat the search in other databases, adjusting for interface differences. Remember to evaluate as you search - simply gathering isn't the goal, you want to find sources you can use.

  8. Send applicable references to a bibliographic management tool, such as RefWorks, and share with co-investigators

  9. Continue to refine your search and consult with experts.

  10. Though articles will often be your main literature source, consider other resource types. Books, websites, and gray literature often supplement the literature published in established journals.

Library Help!

If you would like library involvement in your research, feel free to contact DML Reference! Within the library, subject-specific liaison librarians are available to help work through your literature search. Also, check out our other subject guides!