This collection of resources is to support people working in health and social care organisations, looking to improve their use of evidence to support better decision-making. It is for people who are new to looking for health evidence and want to know where to start, as well as more experienced evidence users who may want to refresh their evidence searching skills.
There are resources to explain:
There is a mix of written content and videos, including links to external resources and some longer training courses for people wanting more depth. We hope you find what you are looking for. If you think there is something else that should be added to this page, please let us know.
Cochrane Training offer a free online learning resource with an accessible introduction to health evidence and how to use it to make informed health choices. There are four modules of up to 45 minutes each, covering the basics of evidence-based medicine, understanding randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews, and resources to help inform decision-making. It is free to access by logging in with an email and password (no other details are needed).
If you are looking for a short overview of the different research designs used to produce health evidence, this guide from the Alliance for Useful Evidence has an excellent summary and a quick pros and cons list of many research designs (PDF) (see pages 21-23). This is a good place to start if you are new to reading about health evidence.
See a list of the most popular databases for searching for health literature (PDF) (bibliographic databases). This includes links to review databases containing systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and links to major databases for medicine, public health and the social sciences, containing a range of article types including reviews, primary research, background articles, opinion pieces, editorials and more.
The NHS Knowledge Library Services site gives general guidance about NHS knowledge and library services and how NHS staff can access evidence via their local NHS library. It includes a search to find details of your local library as well as guidance about signing up with NHS Open Athens to get access to databases.
Read an outline of how to access the relevant databases for searching evidence, with advice for staff in NHS organisations (including primary care and CCGs), as well as local authority staff and some other organisations who work with NHS patients.
Public Health England have produced this useful guide to support public health staff in local authorities with finding evidence (PDF).
University staff (employees or honorary contract holders) in the local patch can access an extensive range of databases via their library websites. In some cases, they also offer guest access to non-university staff:
Professional Royal Colleges such as the Royal College of Nursing or the Royal College of Physicians also have their own libraries but these are restricted to members only.
This short, online tutorial from the US National Library of Medicine explains how to convert your information request into appropriate search terms for PubMed, the public interface of Medline (mentioned above), as well as how to filter and refine your searches. There’s also a short PubMed user guide, to help answer any questions you may have when searching PubMed.
In this short (10 minute) presentation, ARC West’s Senior Research Associate in Information Retrieval (Sarah Dawson), talks about the nuts and bolts of searching including key elements such as BOOLEAN operators, truncation and phrase searching.
These slides were made for the MSc Public Health course at University of Bristol to support literature searching for a systematic review (Author: Sarah Dawson, Senior Research Associate in Information Retrieval, ARC West and University of Bristol). Please note: some content is specific to those with access to a University of Bristol account. See the guidance above for other ways to access the databases mentioned in the presentation.
If you would like to take a more in-depth look at the techniques of literature searching, this online course on the NHS E-Learning for Health platform is a step-by-step guide to finding information and developing effective searching skills. It comprises seven modules of 10-20 minutes each and is free to access without creating an account.
For anyone carrying out a full systematic review, more detailed training in literature searching may be required. You can search our database of local training providers to find a suitable course (topic = Research Methods) to find opportunities.
In this short (6 minute) podcast, Sarah Dawson, ARC West’s Senior Research Associate in Information Retrieval, talks about what grey literature is and the best ways to find it.
An extensive set of links to grey literature has also been produced by University Hospitals Bristol and Weston, by librarian Jo Hooper.
Extra tips for searching are also given in this ‘cheat sheet’. You can also pick up extra tips and tricks for enhancing your use of Google (PDF).
Most databases will allow you to save your search strategy. You may have to set up an account on the database platform before you can do this, but this is a quick and simple process. You can then re-run your search at any time. When you wish to save and download the search results you can export the records in a variety of formats such as Word, Excel or formats designed for special, referencing software applications such as EndNote. You can then screen the search results offline and annotate the records if you wish.
In addition to saving your search strategy online, you should keep a copy of the search strategy offline too: the exact search terms used, date of search, plus any limits applied, and the number of results retrieved for each database searched. You may need this information when you come to report the search methods when writing up your report, or if you want the search strategy to be peer reviewed.
Depending on the number of search results retrieved (and the purpose of your search), there are various reference management tools which can help you process the search results, such as removing any duplicates and screening the records. This type of software can also produce citations in a variety of referencing styles, which can be very useful if you are writing up your work for publication. Examples include EndNote, RefWorks, Zotero, Citavi and some of these tools are freely available. There’s also an App called Rayyan which allows you to share your search results with multiple authors/collaborators, where records can be double screened, blinded to each other’s decision to ensure no mistakes are made when selecting which records to keep.
Once you have carried out your initial search, you may want to set up alerts in selected databases to receive notifications when new articles are published. In addition, there are various organisations that provide bulletins and other outputs to share the latest developments in a field or topic. A few of these are listed here and your local NHS library may also produce their own:
Appraising the quality of a piece of evidence is a crucial step in making an evidence-based decision. There are lots of tools for helping you consider the quality of evidence. Some of the best known and widely used are produced by the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) based in Oxford, UK. These tools or checklists vary according to the type of evidence you are appraising. See the checklist for qualitative research, or quantitative research such as a randomised controlled trial, or secondary evidence such as a systematic review. Other tools can be found by searching for ‘critical appraisal tools’ online. There is a similar process for appraising a piece of grey literature.
If you would like further guidance about how to carry out a critical appraisal of a piece of health evidence, here is a range of useful resources to learn more about the process: