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Global Public Health: Beginning Your Research

About this Guide

This tab has several goals:  

1) outline a series of steps to follow in conducting your research and developing your paper,

2)  to help you better navigate this guide

Excellent Starting Points for Building a Bibliography

Beginning Your Research

Beginning Your Research & Developing Your Paper 

  1. A helpful beginning step to identifying and developing your main topic is to figure out what your basic question/s is/are
  2. Next, consider the various disciplines and concepts that need to be addressed to answer this/these question(s).  Think about other terms that describe these concepts, including synonyms, variant spellings, broader or narrower terms.  Think also about the kinds of sources you will need to consult to answer these questions.
  3. Talk to experts who can suggest beginning sources to you: your professors and anyone else that they recommend.
  4. Look for background information on your topic.  Reference Sources (including Annual Reviews), an interdisciplinary database providing full-text access to essays that summarize what has been  published about a given topic in recent years (also called literature reviews).  Other kinds of Reviews 

Browsing & Exploring your Topic  

As you move through steps 2-4, be aware of the fact that browsing is an important aspect of starting your search -- look everywhere because at this point, nothing is off limits.  You may not cite everything you find in the phase because often these resources lead you on to better and more informative resources (references are particularly helpful).  Combined with Browsing, start to make a little map of your topic.  It will grow with you as you search (and follow the tips below).

See the sub-tab Systematize Your Research and Topic Mapping to learn more about conceptualizing your project and your research process.

Searching Specifically on your Topic

Once you are ready to search, it is very important to remember the following: A keyword search in any electronic resource (a library catalog, a digital library, a database, the internet, etc.) will point you to great initial resources, but you will not find all of the resources you need this way.  Thus, it is really important that you follow up on your initial searching by:

  • Looking at the complete records to identify subject headings or descriptors that you can use to search further.
  • Carrying out seed research: go to the initial sources and check the footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies to find further resources.  It is also helpful to walk around the shelves in the library where you find initial print sources, as other related sources will be shelved in this area.
  • Review Sources are also very helpful for identifying relevant scholarly resources and evaluating/determining how useful they are for your work.    The Review Sources Research guide, which points to strategies and places to search for Book Reviews; Film Dance and Theater Reviews; and Research Literature (which points to Annual Reviews and Dissertations as well as particular databases). For example, book reviews can help you:
    • Find out what others have said about a book
    • Identify controversies about the book
    • Find out how the book relates to other works
    • Find out what's new in your field of interest
    • Easily identify recommended books for future reading.

Navigating the Guide

Using this Guide

To use this guide to search for specific kinds of resources:

See the box below for Key Search Strategies.

Keyword Search Strategies and Tools

Try one or two of the following strategies in the database you want to use.  Not all of them are available in every database. Different strategies will change your results and help you target the articles you need.

  Boolean Operators   

Truncation is a search technique that broadens your search to include various word endings. To truncate your search terms, replace the word ending with an asterik *.

infographic that shows the truncated politic* will return results for politics, politician, and political


Limits provide database-specific recommendations for narrowing a search. Applying limits will filter out results that don’t meet your search requirements. This will save you time because you won’t need to look through pages of search results that don’t include the information that you need Each database offers different limits. Be sure to check them out to see how they can help you with your search.

For example: In the database, Historical Abstracts, you can filter your search results for peer review, publication date, document type, language, subject, etc.

The image below illustrates how applying limits will help you to narrow
your search results.

nested circles that show how applying limits will reduce the number of results. The largest circle shows 8,747 results of a search on the Enlightenment. A smaller circle within that shows 256 results for a search on the Enlightenment and the Catholic Church. The smallest inner circle shows that search limited to peer reviewed articles, with 230 results


It's important to know that databases use subject headings to organize their articles. When you know the right subject headings for your topic, you can search more efficiently. Starting out on a new topic, you won't know the subject terminology. A simple way to find them is to start with a keyword search. When you find an article title that meets your needs, look for the subject headings assigned to that article. In most cases, those subject headings are hyperlinked and will take you to a list of articles with the same subject heading.

screenshot of an article page with an arrow pointing to the Subject Terms. You'll find a list of subject headings or subject terms in each record. The subject headings, or subject terms, are hyperlinked and will send you to a list of records with that subject heading

screenshot of an article's abstract with several keywords highlighted. The abstract is a brief summary of the article that can help you determine is you want to read the full text. Use the abstract to help modify your search by skimming it for additional keywords

Scholarly articles often have extensive bibliographies, also called reference lists or works cited pages. Bibliographies include references to articles, books, and other relevant literature that were published before the article. Some databases provide links to the cited references so that you can look at those articles as well, which might provide more articles for you to use in your paper.

Cited References can help you find articles that are older than the one you are reading.

An Examplle:

infographic of a 2003 article, articles in its bibliography from 1998, 2000, and 2002, plus Times Cited articles from 2006, 2009, and 2011 that have the 2003 article in their bibliography

Look at the example to the left. If you found a relevant article from 2003, you could look at the articles in the bibliography to see where your article got the information used to support their main points. These older articles can also be useful to your research, especially if you need to write a literature review.

You can use a similar method to find newer articles, by looking at the articles who have cited your 2003 article in their bibliographies. To find out more about this method, see the tab for Times Cited references.



Some databases, like Web of Science, include times cited references. Think of these as the opposite of a bibliography. Where bibliographies include references that are older than the article, times cited references are newer than the article.

Times Cited references can help you find articles that are more recent than the one you are reading.

An Examplle:

infographic of a 2003 article, articles in its bibliography from 1998, 2000, and 2002, plus Times Cited articles from 2006, 2009, and 2011 that have the 2003 article in their bibliography

Look at the example to the left. Let’s say your professor doesn’t let you include references in your paper that are older than 2005. You are finding articles about your topic, but they are all too old. Even the best article about your topic was published in 2003.

Using times cited references, you could see which articles have cited the 2003 article. Chances are you will find one published a more recently that you could use for your paper.



When you find an article that you think will be a good to use, you can take advantage of “related articles” to find similar articles. Databases have different formulas for determining how an article is “related,” but it usually is a combination of same keywords and descriptors.

You can usually find a list of related articles on the results screen of the database.

infographic of a great article connected to related articles