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Integrative Medicine: Finding Journal Articles and Literature Searching

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Finding journal articles and Literature Searching

A literature search is a systematic and comprehensive search for information. This information will inform, underpin and /or shape your research. 

A literature search will enable you to find out what has already been written in your subject area and identify the main trends. 

The information may be found in books, journal articles, reports, case studies, policy documents, conference proceedings etc.

Remember full text is often reliant on paid subscriptions - full text articles are not always freely available.


On this page you will find out:

  • Search tips for using and combining keywords in databases
  • How to critique evidence/your results
  • How to check if you have access to the full text online
  • How to order the item if you don't have online access


Other related information and where it is:

Online tutorials and helpsheets for the individual databases are available from the drop down menu underneath the Finding Journal Articles and Literature Searching tab

Search Tips


It is useful to identify and list the key words and concepts you are interested in. Be aware of:

  • Synonyms - words that mean the same or similar thing. Make a list. Authors may choose to use one particular term rather than another in their articles.

  • Related terms and different word endings/plurals.

  • If you are interested in a particular ailment, illness or health condition, identify the different names that are used for it - medical and more general (formal/informal).

  • If you are interested in a particular treatment, identify the medication and the ingredients/herbs it contains (and the various names for those herbs).

  • Make a note of acronyms and abbreviations. Including these in your search strategy ensures you are doing a thorough search.

  • Different spellings. American English spellings are worth including in your list of search terms. If you are focusing on Chinese medicine, you need to ensure you identify language and spelling variations too.

  • Consider monitorable changes and improvements in the ailment or condition, and use the variety of keywords relating to these to find research in the area of interest in relation to the treatments you are searching on. Research may not refer to treatments as curative, but may discuss measurable improvements in conditions.

  • Keep a record of keywords and your search strategies. These are an essential part of your research. They need to be described and recorded in your final dissertation as proof of a systematic and thorough approach.

  • Most databases allow you to create your own individual account where you can save your searches/results, print out the search strategy and set up email alerts to update you on up to date articles in your area of interest.


Break your topic or research question into its component parts and search for each separately.

Search using each term separately and look at the number of results to see which are most commonly used.

Do this for each part or concept within your topic of interest or research question. This gives you more flexibility in the way you can combine concepts together at a later stage.


Search using each term separately and look at the number of results to see which are most commonly used. You can later combine these using OR to include articles that contain any of the keywords, for a broad search. This is useful for synonyms, or terms that mean the same or similar.

e.g. X OR Y OR Z retrieves results which have either term X or term Y or term Z in.

Keywords that broaden or narrow down your search. Combine these using AND to search for articles which include all terms to focus/narrow a search.

e.g. Q AND R AND S retrieves results which contain all three terms Q, R and S.


e.g American English variations. If you are focusing on Chinese medicine, you need to ensure you identify language and spelling variations too.


For more detailed advice and tips use the Search Tips for Complementary Health Students help sheet. The CMH4442 Handout on PICO, SPICE and keywords may help you think about and create a list to inform your search strategy. Books on research and literature reviews also explain the process of literature searching in detail.


Critical appraisal of the evidence

Critical appraisal is the process of evaluating and interpreting evidence by systematically considering its validity, results and relevance. You will need to use your critical appraisal skills when identifying and choosing resources to use for your assignments and dissertation. The following resources should provide a useful introduction to this process:

Books on Critical Thinking and Critiquing