How to do Research on Health

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Health and Medicine Research Guide 2How to do research on health and medicine? Many people would like to be better informed about the diseases and conditions that may threaten their health and well-being. Of paramount importance is finding accurate information on symptoms, procedures, tests, and treatments for common health issues; the effectiveness or side effects of certain prescription drugs; specific aspects of human anatomy; and the best techniques for staying fit and healthy. Selecting your research paper sources carefully is the key. The most reliable sources for medical and health-related information are core-subject print and Web indexes and abstracts that specialize in the field and contain bibliographic information on articles published in highly respected peer-reviewed academic and medical journals. These are authored by leading medical practitioners and researchers, and while at times highly technical, they are credibly sourced and detailed. General references, such as books and encyclopedias; popular magazines, including consumer health magazines; and major newspapers in addition to Web sites of many major health organizations, medical associations, and government agencies offer articles, reports, and other literature written for more mainstream audiences. These too can be beneficial. Vast resources for research papers on health and medicine are available (additional sources are searchable through your library’s online catalog), and some of the best are listed below.

Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to your research paper topic.

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Suggested Research Topics in Health and Medicine

  • Aging
  • Alternative Medicine
  • Bioethics
  • Breastfeeding
  • Drug Abuse
  • Health
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Services Administration
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • Immunology
  • Medical Care
  • Medical Ethics
  • Medical Statistics
  • Medicine
  • Mental Health
  • Mental Illness
  • Midwifery
  • Nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Obstetrics
  • People with Disabilities
  • Pharmacology
  • Public Health
  • Rehabilitation
  • Social Medicine
  • Therapeutics

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your paper topic.

If your topic is “teens and drug abuse,” for example, enter “teens” and “drug abuse” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, alternate with one new keyword at a time with “and” in between (for example, “teens and drug use,” “teens and drug crimes” “teens and drug deaths,” “teens and drug overdoses,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your search, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to your research paper subject.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

Health & Medicine Research Guide 1As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your topic, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include

Federal Information Sources in Health and Medicine: A Selected Annotated Bibliography, by Mary Glen Chitty, 306 pages (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988)

Guide to Libraries and Information Sources in Medicine and Health Care, 3rd ed., edited by Peter Dale, 209 pages (London: British Library, 2002)

Introduction to Reference Sources in the Health Sciences, 5th ed., edited by Jeffrey T. Huber, Jo Anne Boorkman, and Jean Blackwell (New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2008)

A Research Guide to the Health Sciences: Medical, Nutritional, and Environmental, by Kathleen J. Haselbauer, 655 pages (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—that you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to the subject of your research paper.

Selected Books and References


American Medical Association Complete Medical Encyclopedia, 1,376 pages (New York: Random House, 2003)

The “only major medical encyclopedia of the century,” this comprehensive illustrated A–Z guide exhaustively covers common and uncommon disorders and diseases, including symptoms, diagnosis, drugs, and treatments. Some 5,000 entries list 2,800 drugs, describe more than 2,200 illnesses, explain 600 tests and operations, and much more, in language written for the layperson.

Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition, 2nd ed., edited by Lindsay Allen, 4 vols., 2,200 pages (San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 2005)

This encyclopedia, also available as an online edition, contains signed articles with bibliographies written by an international group of distinguished academics, research scientists, and food-industry professionals. Alphabetical entries cover all aspects of nutrition—scientific, political, and social—and a wide range of subjects, including anatomy and physiology, nutritional management, nutritional therapies, religious customs, and more. Accompanying this three-volume set are appendixes with charts of weights and measures, nutritional allowances, and nutritional content of foods.

Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed., 5 vols., 3,956 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 2005)

Compiled with the help of an advisory board of physicians, librarians, health care professionals, and writers, this five-volume reference set encompasses more than 1,700 entries, in alphabetical order, covering 965 conditions, 235 procedures and tests, and 325 therapies and treatments, including alternative and drug treatments. Signed entries run from one to three pages in length. Content includes brief bibliographies, definitions of key terms, and lists of organizations for referral. Each volume is copiously illustrated with black-and-white photographs, line drawings, and charts.


Drug Facts and Comparisons 2010, 64th ed., 3,120 pages (St. Louis, Mo.: Facts and Comparisons, 2009)

First published in 1953, this up-to-date annual reference, organized by therapeutic drug class, contains facts and information for quick comparison on more than 600 generic drugs and more than 2,000 representative trade names, including charts and tables and numerous cross-references within each entry.

Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2010: 5 Books in 1, 11th ed., by Fred Ferri, M.D., 1,568 pages (St. Louis, Mo.: Mosby, Inc., 2009)

First published in 1999 and revised annually, this edition features more than 1,000 topics with basic information on more than 700 disorders, including signs and symptoms and diagnostic and therapeutic information. Divided into five sections, this easy-to-use reference also offers key information on preventive medicine, patient and disease management, and laboratory and diagnostic tests; also available online.

Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, 3rd ed., edited by Scott C. Litin, 1,448 pages (New York: HarperResource, 2003)

This well-documented, single-volume reference features detailed information on more than 1,000 diseases and disorders, human growth and development, and modern medical methods for first aid and emergency and medical care.

Physicians’ Desk Reference, 64th ed., 3,200 pages, (Montvale, N.J.: Thomson Health Care, 2003)

Annual compilation of Food and Drug Administration–approved prescription drugs with manufacturers’ labeling information on more than 3,000 drugs, including some dietary supplements and other products. This volume was combined with an electronic version on CD-ROM.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Academic Search Premier (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, indexing: 1984– , full text: 1990– )

A good source for scholarly journals, this database offers full-text access to nearly 3,180 scholarly publications in all academic disciplines. Coverage varies by publication, but most full-text articles are from 1990 to the present.

Health and Wellness Resource Center (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Full-text indexing and access to articles on a myriad of health and medicine issues from nearly 400 newspapers and periodicals. Database also offers full-text encyclopedias, directories, medical dictionaries, and pamphlets, and Web links. Newspaper and magazine content is similar to that of Health Reference Center—Academic.

Health Periodicals Database (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 1976– )

This single resource, available through Thomson DIALOG, offers timely, in-depth information on a wide range of health, fitness, nutrition, and specialized medical topics. Indexed are citations and abstracts and full text of 130 consumer health periodicals and 110 core health publications, including professional medical journals and pamphlets from medical associations. Coverage includes such topics as AIDS, biotechnology, cardiovascular disease, dieting, drug abuse, environment and public health, gerontology, health care costs, medical ethics, mental health, occupational health and safety, sports medicine, and toxicology.

Health Reference Center—Academic (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Health Reference Center—Academic has nearly the same magazine and newspaper coverage as Health and Wellness Resource Center. It provides indexing of medical, nursing, and consumer-oriented information from more than 200 medical journals and consumer health magazines since 1980. This includes more than 150 full-text articles, selective indexing of 1,500 general interest titles, and the full text of six medical reference books and more than 500 pamphlets. Book references include the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide and The Consumer Health Information Source Book.

LexisNexis Academic Universe (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1977– )

Providing up-to-date coverage of a variety of subjects, including news and current events, from more than 5,600 sources, LexisNexis Academic Universe is also a good place for finding full-text articles in the field of medicine. Years covered varies but most go back at least ten years.

Nursing Journals (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1984– )

Contains the full text of articles from more than 275 key nursing journals, some of which are duplicated in CINAHL.

ProQuest Research Library (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest/UMI indexing: 1971– full text: 1986– )

Provides abstracts, indexing, and full text of articles from academic journals, popular magazines, and key business publications. It is a full-text resource providing complete coverage of high-demand sources. The database covers more than 2,500 general-reference publications, including 635 periodicals related to the social sciences, 169 in the general sciences, and 239 general-interest publications. The full text edition includes ASCII full-text articles from approximately 600 of the indexed titles.

Selected Periodicals

FDA Consumer (Rockville, Md.: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, 1967– , bimonthly)

Published bimonthly by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer, formerly known as FDA Papers (1967–72), offers informative, in-depth articles on food, drugs, and health-related issues of interest to consumers. Articles focus on ways to get healthy and stay healthy and include reports on current FDA activities to regulate products, such as food, human and animal drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, radiation-emitting products, biologics, and more.

Harvard Health Letter (Boston: Harvard Health Publications Group, 1975– , monthly)

First published on November 1, 1975, the Harvard Health Letter is a source of authoritative health information, research news, and the latest developments in treatments and medications. With more than 180,000 subscribers, each issue features articles reviewed and approved by Harvard’s editorial board on such health issues as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, diabetes, heart disease, preventive medicine, and more.

Health (Birmingham, Ala.: Health Publishing, Inc., 1967– , 10 times a year)

This glossy consumer magazine for women features current news and informative feature articles on health and beauty and ways to live and keep healthy.

JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1848– , weekly)

The official journal of the American Medical Association, this fl agship publication, published weekly online, features original, well-researched, and peer-reviewed articles on a wide range of medical topics and multiple areas of medicine. Articles focus on clinical science, controversial issues, disease prevention, new developments, ethical and legal concerns, public health, quality of medical care, and more. Contents also include medical news, opinion papers, and book reviews. Subscribers to this journal also have full access to current and past issues, full text and abstracts from January 1998 to the present; table of contents and abstracts only from January 1960 to December 1997; and tables of contents and abstracts only from July 1883 to December 1959. To access the JAMA archives, visit

New England Journal of Medicine (Boston: Massachusetts Medical Society, 1812– , weekly)

First published in 1812, this leading weekly peer-reviewed medical journal reports on the latest medical breakthroughs and research findings of interest to professionals in the fields of biomedical science and clinical practice. Each issue contains research findings, opinion papers, and book reviews on a variety of topics. Most articles published in the journal deal with internal medicine and specialty areas, including allergy/immunology, cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, kidney disease, oncology, pulmonary disease, rheumatology, HIV, and infectious diseases. Full text and Abstracts of articles published in current and past issues are available through the journal’s Web site from 1975 to the present (

Prevention (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 1950– , monthly)

Prevention magazine discusses the latest ways to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Each issue features articles stressing the importance of exercise, nutrition, mental health, and other issues with an emphasis on the prevention of illness.

Selected Web Sites

AMA Patient Health Resources


This Web page of the American Medical Association (AMA) features information and links to patient resources and programs developed by the AMA.

1stHeadlines-Health (

Continuously updated 24 hours a day, 1stHeadlines is a comprehensive directory of stories from top online news sources, including newspapers and television news networks. Stories are listed by category—U.S. and world, business, health, lifestyles, sports, technology, and weather. The health section provides access to the latest news in this field.

Healthfinder (

This federal gateway to reliable health information offers visitors a variety of choices, including a health library organized from A to Z; “Just for You” health topics organized by age, race, and ethnicity; information about doctors, dentists, hospitals, health insurance, and more; and a directory of selected health information Web sites such as those of government agencies, information clearinghouses, nonprofit organizations, and universities. (

Home page of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic with a directory of health resources. Direct access is provided to A-to-Z online database of diseases and conditions, information about healthy living, a searchable drug database with brand names, descriptions, purposes, and common side effects, and health decision guides on a wide range of health issues.

Medical Breakthroughs (

Published by Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc., this site contains the latest medical news from leading medical centers and research labs, browsable or searchable by topic.


A public service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, MEDLINEPlus is a database covering 650 topics on conditions, diseases and wellness, drug information, and much more.

Merck Manual (

Provides full online searching of the popular medical reference The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, offering detailed descriptions of virtually every disease and condition, including symptoms, signs, and forms of treatment.

National Center for Health Statistics Media Releases (

Offers statistical media releases by year and by subject on a diverse range of public health issues, including contraceptive use, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and youth suicide published from 1994 to the present.

Newswise (

A comprehensive database of current news, plus a searchable archive, Newswise features the latest news releases from major institutions in the fields of scientific, medical, and business research. News sections include science, medical, and business news, searchable or browsable by date.

WebMD (

WebMD offers free access to information on conditions or diseases on seemingly every topic.

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