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Food Systems, Nutrition, and Health Guide

Guide to library resources and techniques relevant to the Food Systems, Nutrition, and Health program.

Scholarly Literature Basics

The general guideline is to search at least three databases, you will likely search more and look to grey literature sources to ensure you fully understand the context of your topic and incorporate many perspectives. 

What is it? 

Scholarly lit typically refers to journal articles published to enhance the field of study. It is also called "academic literature", "research", or "peer reviewed". 

When do I use it? 

When trying to understand a current or evolving issue. As background or historical information, although textbooks are often a better choice for established facts. 

How do I find it? 

In scholarly databases: 

How do I evaluate it?

Getting to Full Text

Ebooks & Nutrition Analysis Tools

Background Information

Background information is typically found in books.

Nutrition Analysis Tools

Searching Basics

Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT

Search Strategy Development

Combining Concepts

Visual map of concepts using a Venn diagram

Conceptualizing a search strategy to research: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) studying social skill development in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Learn more about developing a research question.

Venn diagram of RCTs, social skills, children, and ADHD with an arrow pointing at crossover of all four concepts

By using Boolean operators, the database returns results for articles that meet all four components of the search (i.e., the center of the Venn diagram where all four concepts overlap). 

Adding synonyms for your concepts

image info listed below to make copying and pasting easier.

Copy-and-paste version of above image

(social skills OR interpersonal skills OR role play* OR social competence OR social behavior OR social behaviour) 
(Attention deficit disorder OR attention hyperactivity disorder OR adhd OR ad hd OR hyperactiv* OR hyperkine*)
(child OR children OR pediatric OR boy OR boys OR girl OR girls OR preschool* OR adolescen*)
(randomized controlled trial OR randomized clinical trial OR randomized trial OR randomised trial)

In many databases, the asterisk is a wildcard; it can be considered a 'fill in the blank' option for the database. Wildcards can cause issues, especially if used incorrectly because not all databases understand the asterisk the same. Learn more about using wildcards in different databases.

Note the parentheses around synonymous or conceptually similar terms.

Revising your search

Searching is iterative and you should not expect to get it right on the first try! 

Tracking your search

After trying your search, in a document or spreadsheet, record the following information so you can reproduce the search later or improve it another day: 

  • Search string (the keywords including the parenthesis and Boolean operators) 
  • Which interface you used to search which database you searched (e.g. PubMed: MEDLINE, indicating PubMed is the interface and MEDLINE is the database) 
  • Date you ran the search 
  • Number of results 
Evaluate your results 
  • Do you need to add keywords? 
    • E.g., plural versions of your terms or alternate endings like large capacity magazines or nursing for terms like nurse and nurses 
    • Would truncation and a wildcard help -- note when a word ends early and an asterisk is inserted, that is instructing PubMed to end complete the word with other options; e.g., adolescen* in the search above will search for adolescence and adolescent and adolescents
  • Do you need to remove keywords? 
    • E.g. some of our terms have a second meaning that we are not interested in so we may need to use quoted phrases to find "large capacity magazine" in the title, abstract, or keywords of the articles in PubMed
  • Are there any typos in your search terms? 
  • Are your ORs and ANDs and parentheses in the right place? 
    • Check your parentheses with Balance Braces 
    • Try changing the font and/or font size of your search to better proofread your Boolean operators
  • Are there too many results to reasonably go through? 
    • Modify keywords 
    • Add another concept like: AND (harm reduction OR injury OR injuries)
    • Try a filter (found on the left side of the PubMed results page) 
  • Too few results? Zero results?! 
    • Are all of your concepts actually required? If not, try adding them with an OR rather than an AND Boolean operator 
    • Check Boolean Operators; are you using an AND when an OR is needed? E.g., child AND children OR kid – these are all conceptually similar so we should use ORs between each term 
    • Could research from another area apply to your population? E.g. you may not find anything for King County but you likely will for Washington State or the U.S.

Select News Sources

Current events in research, government, and civil society are often reported through journalism. Here are some of the many news and reporting outlets that frequently cover food systems.

Public Health & Research Services Librarian


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