(2004; 45 pages)
Searching the primary literature
When using the primary and secondary literature, it is important to develop good systematic literature search skills to avoid unnecessarily wasting time on irrelevant information. This involves:
1. Defining the type of questions to be asked about medicines (e.g. efficacy, adverse effects, economy and effect on quality of life).
2. Selecting the best type of research evidence or study to provide answers (e.g. randomized controlled trials, cohort studies, cost-benefit analysis or qualitative research).
3. Selecting the best type of information resource that would provide access to such research evidence (e.g. original publications in journals, systematic reviews, textbooks and bibliographical databases).
4. Designing the search strategy, i.e. narrowing the search sufficiently to find the relevant information while using criteria that are suitably inclusive so as not to miss important items. In the case of bibliographical databases this means using the right combinations of keywords, with Boolean operators and methodological filters.
There are several bibliographical databases that can be used to locate important primary or secondary literature (see examples in Table 5.1). Medline is the largest biomedical bibliographical database that can be accessed at no cost via PubMed12 on the Internet. PubMed has several features that can support systematic searches, one example is the Clinical Queries13 service that can help retrieve sound clinical studies or systematic reviews on etiology, prognosis, diagnosis, prevention or treatment of diseases by applying research methodology filters. You can find further instructions on how to search Medline in the Pubmed Tutorial.14