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Public Health

Guide to library research for evidence-informed public health practice.

Requesting Articles Through Omni

If the database/library does not provide access to the articles that you are trying to retrieve, you can request full-text articles via the library’s Interlibrary Loans service:

  • Complete a request using the Blank Request Form.
  • You must select a Pickup Location, however PDFs will be sent electronically.
  • The turnaround time for receiving PDFs via email can be as quick as one or two business days, however, some articles may take longer if they are challenging to track down and receive.


Search considerations for evidence-informed decision making:

  • When searching for research evidence, consider that there is a hierarchy of evidence. The NCCMT Evidence-Informed Public Health website provides the following guidance: 

"Your search strategy should aim to locate the strongest quality and most relevant evidence first. When searching for quantitative evidence (e.g., effectiveness of an intervention, health effects, cost effectiveness, etc.) some study designs are considered stronger than others. It is important that the research design is the most appropriate to answer the question being asked."

  • Higher levels of evidence consist of syntheses of studies (e.g. systematic reviews and meta-analyses) and practice guidelines.
  • Some databases/resources (see Evidence-Based Practice Resources below) prioritize high-level evidence such as Cochrane Library and Health Evidence.
  • Bibliographic databases like Global Health, Ovid MEDLINE etc. often include syntheses and guidelines (in addition to individual studies), which can be easily retrieved by limiting your search results by publication type or study design.

Evidence Based Practice Resources

Resources listed in this section provide some type of evidence based analysis, synthesis and/or summary of a particular topic, study or question that will aid in evidence based decision making. Evidence-based databases/resources contain a smaller amount of records than most bibliographic databases. In some cases, less is more when conducting a search. For example, if your topic was preventing adolescent vaping, you might start by only searching vaping.

Bibliographic Databases

Database Search Options

Databases often give you the choice of performing a basic or advanced search. Databases available on the Ovid platform (Global Health, MEDLINE, Embase, PyscINFO, etc.)  accessed via Queen's University Library will default you to the advanced search.

A basic search can be incredibly helpful when looking for some good articles on a topic. However, a basic search is not recommended if your intention is to perform a comprehensive search (for conducting a systematic review, for example). Furthermore, many search topics are complex and it can be to your benefit to use advanced search functionalities. Book a consultation with a health sciences librarian is you would like to learn more about advanced searching.

The following page works through basic searching on the Ovid platform. Ovid is a search interface/platform that is available for a number of different databases such as Global Health, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, etc. The examples and screenshots provided are from Ovid MEDLINE and may function or appear slightly different on other Ovid databases.

Basic Search in Ovid Databases

The basic search in many databases operates similar to conducting a Google-type search:
  • Search terms are generally ‘AND’-ed automatically
  • The search algorithm usually attempts to include related terms (ex. searching "childhood" may retrieve "children")
  • Results are often sorted/displayed by relevancy rather than publication year
  • Generally a quick and easy way to locate some relevant records on a topic

Basic search in Ovid databases:

  • Basic search retrieves records where your search terms (and related terms) appear in the record title, abstract, author keywords, database-specific subject headings etc.
  • The basic search mode does not allow you to combine search terms with OR. If you use OR in basic search, Ovid will just ignore the command. If the basic search is not including the necessary synonyms and related terms you want in the search, you can run different iterations of the search by substituting different synonyms and related terms (read more below)

Including related terms in Ovid databases:

  • Like a Google search, many databases will try to include related terms for your search terms. These database algorithms work at a very basic level. For example, the Ovid search above will search for children as a related term for childhood, but not adolescents. You can review what related terms the database includes to the left of the search results to understand how your search was interpreted (see below)
  • In the search information below you can also see that obese was included as a related term for obesity
  • The displayed results will highlight your exact search terms in yellow, and related terms in purple
  • If the database does not include the related terms you are interested in, you can run different iterations of the search by substituting different synonyms and related terms. For example, after searching for: physical activity adolescent obesity, you may want to try: exercise childhood obesity


Database Limits

Most databases will allow you to narrow your search results by applying limits. The options will vary by database but often include limits for publication date, publication types, age groups and language. 

Limits in Ovid databases:

  • You can view limits underneath the main search box
  • If you would like to see even more limit options, you can select "Additional Limits" below