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Public Health

This guide was created to assist Public Health students with research using library resources and also grey literature.

Step 1: Structure Your Research

Classic Question Formulation uses PICO:

  • Population
  • Intervention
  • Comparison
  • Outcome

For example, for the question: What factors affect compliance in a methadone maintenance program for patients with heroin addiction issues?

  • P: Heroin addiction
  • I: Methadone maintenance
  • C: n/a
  • O: compliance/dropouts

A New Way to Structure: Concept Boxes/Tables


  1. Write out the question which you would like to answer through a literature search
  2. Underline the main topics
  3. List each unique topic in one box/column
  4. Group synonymous topics in the same box/column


For example:

I would like to explore the factors affecting compliance with a methadone maintenance program for my patients with heroin addiction issues. Why do so many patients drop out or refuse to be treated in the first place? 

Search question becomes:

What factors affect compliance in a methadone maintenance program for patients with heroin addiction issues?



This helps to structure your search and allows you to search more efficiently. You can now start to gather synonyms for each of the concept areas you've identified (for example, addiction and dependance are synonyms and should both be searched for this topic)

Step 2: Gather Synonyms

Give some thought to what synonyms you can use for each concept. You may gather these as you start to do your research, but try to think of them before you start so that you don't have to redo your searches.

In a database like Scopus or CBCA, you can enter all of your synonyms at once:

(aboriginal OR native OR first nations) AND health promotion AND (plan OR strategy OR program)

Note: you can also use a search strand like this in CINAHL, Medline, Embase, PsycInfo (etc.) by unchecking 'Map term to subject heading' before clicking search

Step 3: Search Recommended Databases


Need a database refresher?
Watch these helpful database searching video tutorials for: Medline, CINAHL, Scopus, Web of Science, and more


Other health databases:

Interdisciplinary Databases

Need to look in subject-specific databases? Search by Recommended Databases by Subject 
(Hint: other relevant subject areas could be Business & Management, Education, Psychology, Public Policy, Social Sciences, Social Work, etc). 


Global Health Databases

Find Systematic Reviews

Need more help with researching a scoping or systematic reviews? Visit our Systematic Reviews Guide