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Literature searching for Medical and Dental Sciences

Activity 2: Planning

First, be clear about your topic.  Try writing out the title and breaking this down into key areas, using a template: description follows, then a screenshot of the template.

This example has the topic "Treatment of cancers using personalized medicine" and breaks this down into three separate columns.

  • Personalized medicine alternative terms stratified, individualized
  • Cancer has the synonym neoplasms
  • Treatment terms could be therapy, drug therapy, chemotherapy

Limits are at the bottom of the template.  Suggestions are:

  • Date range: last 5 years
  • Language: English
  • Material type: eg Review article.  This could also be: systematic reviews, or RCTs, for example
  • Other: could be age group such as 6-12 or all adult

Template planning worksheet using search example: treatment of cancers using personalized medicine

Methodology - PICO

There are specific methodologies which you may hear about during your studies, such as PICO: Patient or problem, Intervention, Comparison or comparator, Outcome. An S may be added for Study type, or T for the timescale involved. 

These then can be applied to planning your search strategy. 

The Cochrane Library gives the option to 'Browse by PICOs' on its pages, with a number of examples.

The National Library of Medicine in the USA has a template with spellcheckers for using PICO.

View this PICO tutorial from the Miner Library on YouTube, which has subtitles. This includes a brief search using PubMed: see Activity 3A for examples using Ovid Medline.

Methodology - SPIDER

An alternative methodology, aimed at research which is more qualitative than quantitative, or involves mixed methods, is called SPIDER.  Typically: Sample, phenomenon of interest, design, evaluation, research type.  (Cooke, Smith and Booth, 2012).  Read Cooke, Smith and Booth (2012) for more information: the abstract contains a good summary of SPIDER and PICO methods.

For a further summary of these and other methodologies, see How to conduct a literature review (Health Sciences) from Virgina Commonwealth University (2020).

Curtin University (2024) includes methodologies and search suggestions for locating qualitative material in a broader overview of health resources. 

The University of Notre Dame, USA (2024) also considers sources and suggestions for retrieving specifically qualitative research. 

Public Health

A useful contribution to methods of searching the literature for public health and related topics is published as a narrative review by Heath, Levay and Tuvey (2021).


Cooke, A., Smith, D. and Booth, A. (2012) 'Beyond PICO, The SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence synthesis', Qualitative Health Research 22 (10), 1435-1443. doi: org/10.1177/1049732312452938 

Curtin University (2024) 'What is a qualitative research?', in Health sciences resources.  Available at: (Accessed 7 March 2024)

Heath, A., Levay, P., and Tuvey, D. (2021). Literature searching methods or guidance and their application to public health topics: A narrative review. Health Information & Libraries Journal. doi: org/10.1111/hir.12414

University of Notre Dame (2024) 'Search tips for qualitative research sources', in Qualitative Research. Available at: (Accessed 7 March 2024)

Virginia Commonwealth University (2020)  How to conduct a literature review (Health Sciences).  Available at: (Accessed 26 May 2020)

Activity 2: Search plan - Practical exercise

Now try to plan a search with your own topic: or choose one of the following:

1. Treatment of obesity by lifestyle

2. The use of statins for treating hypertension

3. Vaccination for influenza epidemics in the health service

4. Mass screening for breast cancer in the U.K. 

5. Oral hygiene and health promotion in low- and middle-income countries.

6. Root canal surgery and prevention of infection.

7. The role of the dental hygienist in preventing dental caries in children. 

Use the Word document attached immediately below to enter your terms.

For more information on literature searching techniques, see the Library Guide to Effective Search Techniques. 

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