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Research Cycle Guide: Discover

A detailed mapping of library services and resources to the research cycle.

Research Cycle - Discover

Responsible Literature Searching

Learn how to search comprehensively and responsively with our Responsible Literature Searching Library Guide.

After reviewing the Guide, users will be able to:

  • Explain their searching responsibilities as the researcher or clinician.
  • Use PICO (or another applicable framework) to state the research or clinical topic as an answerable question.
  • Select appropriate databases and/or information sources.
  • Identify possible subject headings and keywords based on the concepts identified in PICO.
  • Perform database searches.
  • Apply limits and filters.
  • Determine if the searches have responsibly answered the research or clinical topic. (If not, refine search as needed.)

Select Appropriate Information Resources/Databases

What are the optimal resources? To a large extent, it depends on the type of question you are asking, the comprehensiveness required, how much time you have, and which resources are readily available.  Scientific literature can be found in primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. When searching for answers to background and foreground questions, it is important to understand the differences between the three sources. Understanding the classification system enables prioritization of resources for the literature search and selection of the appropriate resource to answer the research topic or clinical question.

Databases are electronic filing systems of vetted, retrievable citations from different sources, including journals, books, proceedings, etc. UT Southwestern Library subscribes to hundreds of vetted databases.

  • Core Health Sciences/Biomedical (e.g., PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane)
  • Subject Specific – Examples include:
    • Psychiatry (APA PsycINFO)
    • Nursing (CINAHL)
    • Education (ERIC)
    • Drugs (Micromedex)
  • Multidisciplinary – Content covers multiple disciplines (e,g., Scopus, Web of Science)

Grey literature (or gray literature) includes information or materials that are not published or indexed in the traditional databases, indexes, peer-reviewed journals, and books.

To minimize the consequences of overreliance on a single database, it is recommended to search multiple databases and resources. Please refer to link below to learn more about information resources.


Many thanks to the McMaster University Health Sciences Library, which gave us permission to use their research cycle as a template to develop ours.