Skip to main content

EAB 788 Meta-analysis in Public Health/Wu: Library Session

This guide supports EAB 788.

EAB 788 Library Session Questions & Answers

EAB 788 Library Session Q & A


1. One thing I still don’t understand is MeSH.

To learn more about MeSH I recommend watching the tutorials listed below. I also recommend making an appointment with me if you would like some face-to-face additional explanation about MeSH.

Advanced PubMed: MeSH

Use MeSH to build a better PubMed query


2. I still don’t understand indexes.

Databases are indexes, these databases provide full-text or indexed abstracts and titles for scholarly literature. I am happy to meet with you to discuss further if you’d like to learn more.


3. Please explain more how to pick more specific topics.

I’m not sure what you’re looking for here. I recommend talking with your disciplinary faculty members to assist you with topic development.


4. I don’t understand when to use MeSH and when to use keywords.

You should begin your search with keywords, remember you want to begin searching as broadly as possible and during the early stages of research a search that uses thesaurus times might be too restrictive. As you proceed in your research process you can think strategically about how to utilize thesaurus resources like MeSH to improve your retrieval of relevant results.


5. I still don’t understand the stages of search. Can you explain in-depth with examples?


Stage 1 At this stage you will do four things:

1)Familiarize yourself with your topic of interest;

2)Select 1 or 2 indexes/databases to search for scholarly literature;

3)Identify search terms; and

4)Set-up a system to begin documenting your search.


1.Familiarize yourself with your topic of interest:

We will use the following research question as an example: What existing interventions have been successful to decrease childhood obesity in elementary school-aged children?  

First, familiarize yourself with the topic by asking questions, what do you know about childhood obesity in elementary school-aged children? What types of interventions have been successful in decreasing childhood obesity? What do you want to learn about childhood obesity? What indexes/databases can you search to find scholarly literature about childhood obesity?


2.Select Indexes/Databases:

Because this question is socio-behavioral in nature I will select two databases to search:

  1. Web of Science because it contains both health sciences and social sciences literature that might reflect some of the successful interventions used to decrease childhood obesity.

  2. PubMed because it will contain biomedical literature that might have studies representing successful interventions in childhood obesity among school-age children


3.Identify Search Terms:

Next identify your search terms. I like to develop a matrix for search that includes the concepts I am looking for. Since your goal is to conduct a meta-analysis you might want to consider study types, in this example I am showing a broad example and will not include study types in my concepts. After you have identified your search terms, you need to think about how you will keep track of your searches, and capture the articles you locate.


Example Search Matrix

Concept A

Concept B

Concept C

Possible Limits


School-age children




Age 5-10


Elementary school-aged children


Geography: United States/Southwest United States


4. Set-up system to begin documenting your search.

In class I showed you my system of documenting a search. You will have to find a system that works well for you. Below is a sample of categories that you might create to keep track of your searching using a spreadsheet, Google Sheet or some other tool.


You will want to save your results retrieved in RefWorks, EndNote or Mendeley to later scan the article titles for relevance.



Limits Applied

Database Searched

Date Searched

Results Retrieved

Stage 2

There are three parts to Stage 2:

  1. Search all relevant databases

  2. Use thesaurus and other tools for searching

  3. Check the grey literature

In this stage you begin searching. You should perform an exhaustive search of all databases and begin the process of checking grey literature.

Search all relevant databases.

Below is a sample of a search tracker with information filled out, your sheet will look different because it will be an exhaustive search of the literature.



Limits Applied

Database Searched

Date Searched

Results Retrieved

Obesity AND school-aged children OR elementary aged children AND obesity intervention




581 results

Obesity AND school-aged children OR elementary aged children AND obesity intervention


Web of Science


2,042 results

Obesity AND school-aged children OR elementary aged children AND obesity intervention


GreyLit Search



14,708 results


Use thesaurus and other tools for searching

Searching is an iterative process. After you have conducted your initial searches you might want to revisit the searches and utilize MeSH or some other tool to refine your search if you find that refining your search might improve the results that you’re looking for.


Check the grey literature

In the above search matrix I have conducted a grey literature search for the example topic in ProQuest Dissertations and Thesis. You might want to identify grey literature sources for your topic, these can include indexes such as: Papers First, other reports from state agencies, or other sources.


Stage Three

Stage three includes two steps:

  1. Citation mine existing studies

  2. Identify key citations


Citation mine existing studies

Citation mining happens when you have selected articles that are relevant to your project. Examine the references of your selected articles for other relevant studies you might want to read, this is citation mining.


Here is a sample article:


The role of local food availability in explaining obesity risk among young school-aged children.  By: Lee, Helen. SOCIAL SCIENCE & MEDICINE   Volume: 74   Issue: 8 Pages: 1193-1203   Published: APR 2012


After examining the references of this article, I select the following article to read as support for my paper:

Burdette and Whitaker, 2004

H.L. Burdette, R.C. Whitaker. Neighborhood playgrounds, fast-food restaurants, and crime: relationships to overweight in low-income preschool children. Preventive Medicine, 38 (2004), pp. 57-63.

You can identify key citations in Web of Science by using their Times Cited feature.

Stage 4

There are two stages to Step 4:

  1. Revise search strategy if necessary

  2. Contact experts if needed


Revise search strategy if necessary:

At this stage revise your search strategy if necessary. Please remember that the process to search is not linear, it is iterative, and to achieve results in a search that meets your criteria you might need to revise.


Contact experts if needed:

At this stage if you come across missing data in an article reach out to the authors to ask if they might be willing to share that data. Also, if you find that you need assistance from your librarian or other experts contact them as needed.


Stage 5 Record the details

As you have been searching all along you should have been keeping track of the details. At this fifth and final stage, record all of the details and move forward to write your paper.


© University of Nevada Las Vegas