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Research at the university level involves the use of more sophisticated tools and resources. In addition to using popular sources, such as news and magazine articles, you will almost certainly be required to use scholarly sources to complete research and writing assignments.
A scholarly source is a written work that has been peer-reviewed or refereed. The terms peer-reviewed and refereed are used interchangeably, and refer to a process of evaluation. Experts in the subject matter (i.e., peers) evaluate (i.e., review) the work for quality and deem it deserving or undeserving of publication. This evaluation investigates the authority, accuracy, and relevancy of the work. Because scholarly sources are rigorously reviewed by experts, they are considered the most reliable sources of information.
The table below outlines differences between scholarly and popular sources. To determine with greater certainty whether a source is scholarly, visit the publisher's/journal's website and review the "About" or "Author Information" section of the site to learn if its publications are peer-reviewed. Search for journal websites at: Scimago Journal & Country Rank.
Scholarly sources are categorized according to the author's position in relation to the information being presented.
|Primary Sources||Secondary Sources|
|Primary sources of information report original research, based on direct observation, use of statistical records, interviews or experimental methods. Primary sources in article format typically follow the IMRaD format: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.||
Secondary sources of information interpret and analyze primary sources of information. Secondary sources in article form typically follow the IBC format: Introduction, Body, Conclusion.
Primary Research Articles
The terms "original", "empirical", and "scientific" are used interchangeably to describe primary research articles. As noted above, primary research articles usually follow the IMRaD format. To learn more about this format, please review the following source: Writing a Scientific Research Report (Writing Center, George Mason University).
Moreover, these articles can be challenging to read, especially for novice scholars. Review the video from the University of Minnesota Libraries linked below to learn more about primary research articles and how to best approach reading them.
The review article is among the most common types of secondary sources. These articles examine current published literature on a particular topic. The comprehensiveness of review articles varies.
A review article is not to be confused with a Systematic Review. A systematic review is a publication type that aims to answer a very specific question using prescribed guidelines and rigorous methods for finding, assessing, and presenting conclusions.
Research databases subscribed to by the Research Medical Library provide instant, full-text access to thousands of scholarly journals /articles. The Library recommends selecting and searching specific databases for finding peer-reviewed articles on a particular topic. The Library Search can be used to conduct more general searches for peer-reviewed literature.
For best results, use database search techniques. You can learn basic techniques by reviewing the Database Searching box below. When you are prepared to conduct a search, select a database from the Library's Core or Category lists. PubMed, Web of Science, and Scopus are good options for biomedical literature.
Some databases provide a "Peer-reviewed" filter, so the user can limit their searches to include only peer-reviewed publications. However, not all databases provide this filter. These databases only index peer-reviewed journals/articles, so there is no need to provide a way to limit by this criteria.
Arguably, the research question is the most important piece of a research project. It guides nearly every step in the process of discovery and examination. So, it is important that this first step is managed thoughtfully.
Often times, research questions originate from broad topics of interest, like "immunotherapy in the treatment of leukemia". The researcher gathers background information on the topic, and uses it to narrow their focus and identify a gap in what is known about the topic. Next, the information gap is formulated into a question that presents a clear purpose for the research. See the Background Information tab for reference sources.
Many research question frameworks have been developed to assist researchers transform topics into well-defined research questions, and provide a strategy for targeting relevant literature. See the Question Frameworks tab for examples.
Reference items, like encyclopedias are a good source for background information. Popular web-based references, like Wikipedia, can also be consulted for background information, but should not be heavily relied on or cited in your research.
Search the Library for more reference books
The PICO Framework.
This framework is commonly used to develop clinical research questions. It helps clinicians identify the essential pieces of information needed for finding an answer for the patient or problem at hand. The C and T are optional.
|P||Patient or Problem|
|C||Comparator (Current gold standard)|
The PEO Framework
This framework is commonly used to develop qualitative research questions about relationships between exposures and outcomes.
The SPIDER Framework
This framework is commonly used to develop qualitative research questions about samples rather than populations.
|P I||Phenomenon of Interest|
Databases should be searched using search strategies (a.k.a., search strings). These strategies are a combination of search terms and Boolean operators. Search terms can can be represented by keywords or subject headings.
Keywords describe a research topic/question in natural language. Identify words that describe the core concepts of the topic/question, and connect those words with Boolean operators ⇒ COVID-19 AND hand washing AND children
Databases use Subject headings to describe and organize sources, and facilitate searching. *Look for a "Subjects" or "Thesaurus" link in a database to reveal its list of subject headings. Like keywords, connect these subject headings with Boolean operators ⇒ COVID-19 AND Hand Disinfection AND Hospitals
*In PubMed, subject headings can be identified using the MeSH Database.
In database searching, Boolean operators are the words AND, OR, and NOT. These words/operators act as commands and tell the database how to perform a search.
Searches for items with all words
Searches for items with any of the words
Excludes items with the specified word
Place parentheses around terms connected with OR. Nesting words within parentheses tells the database to process the words as part of the overall search. The absence of parentheses around groups of synonyms and similar concepts disconnects the words from the search equation, and searches for the words separately.
coronavirus AND inhalation OR deposition
Searches for items with coronavirus and inhalation, and items with deposition
coronavirus AND (inhalation OR deposition)
Search for items with coronavirus and inhalation and items with coronavirus and deposition
This six-part course reviews the basics of database searching. Enroll in the course to begin. This course is self-paced. Learners can move through the modules one-by-one or skip to the relevant sections. You will only receive a certificate if you complete all six modules. Get Started.
A brief tutorial on how to find articles on a topic using PubMed. Get started. (National Library of Medicine, PubMed Online Training).
PubMed & Peer-Review
There is no way to limit search results to peer-reviewed articles in PubMed, but users can limit searches to the MEDLINE subset of PubMed. The majority of the publications in MEDLINE are scholarly (i.e., peer-reviewed). Beware, though, there is a small number of newspapers, magazines, and newsletters included in MEDLINE that are not scholarly in nature.
Go to PubMed
Enter search terms
On search results page > Click Additional filters button
Select Journal > Mark MEDLINE box > Click Show button
On search results page > Mark MEDLINE box