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MLS 524: Current Trends & Issues for the Medical Laboratory Scientist: Search Tips

Library of the Health Sciences

Video Tutorials

What does "Peer-Reviewed" mean?

Throughout your education at UND, you will probably be told repeatedly to use articles from peer-reviewed journals for your assignments.  What does that mean?  Peer-review is a process in which an article is evaluated by an expert(s) in the field, i.e. the author's scholarly peers.  The reviewer provides his or her opinion on whether the article should be published.  Ideally articles from peer-reviewed journals should be more trustworthy than materials pulled from sources that are not reviewed, such as newsletters or most websites.

How do you know if a journal is peer-reviewed?

Sometimes the journal's official website will make it very obvious that it's peer-reviewed.  If not, look for references to editorial process on the editorial statement or instructions for authors pages.  Another option is to look up the journal in Ulrich's Periodical Directory.  Search by journal title or ISSN. Select the matching title, then click on the link that says "Additional Title Details."  If the journal is peer-reviewed, it'll list "Refereed/Peer-Reviewed" under Key Features.

How do I search for peer-reviewed articles?

CINAHL allows you to limit your search to peer-reviewed journals.  First run your search, following the search tips provided on the right.  On the results screen, you'll see ways to limit your search on the left-hand side of the screen.  Click on the limit labeled "Peer Reviewed."

General Search Tips

Finding articles should be the easiest part of your assignment.  Using "Subject Headings" is one strategy that you can employ to make your research run smoothly.  This page contains search strategies for two of our most used databases: PubMed and CINAHL.

When choosing your subject headings, remember this: "Search for Specificity." Searching by broad, general concepts will retrieve many results, but you'll have to wade through lots of irrelevant articles.  Therefore it's generally advisable to start your database searches with "narrower" (i.e. more specific) terminology to retrieve fewer, but more relevant, results.  You can always expand your search later if you don't find what you need.  For example, a search for "Gastronintestinal Diseases" will retrieve over 600,000 citations, but a search for "Stomach Ulcer" will retrieve less than 23,000.

It can be challenging finding subject headings for MLS studies.  Challenging but not impossible.  Play around with your searches until you find headings that work for you.  And remember, you can always contact the library if you need help!

PubMed Search Tips

PubMed is a free database provided by the National Library of Medicine.  Anyone can access PubMed from anywhere, as long as they have access to the internet.  The database does contain some free full-text articles.  However you have access to tens of thousands more full-text articles, as long as you enter PubMed through the library website.  For more help with that, please contact the Library of the Health Sciences.  Keep in mind that your access to the library's subscriptions only last as long as you are students at UND.

Here are some examples of subject headings in PubMed that you might find useful.  I've broken the list into two parts: "broad" terms and "narrow" terms.  I encourage you to play around with various search strategies until you find one that works.  And remember to contact a librarian if you would like help!

Sample Search:

Let's say that you need to research false positive results when testing a patient for Hepatitis B.  After searching for the appropriate subject headings, you might build your PubMed search as:

"False Positive Reactions"[Mesh] AND "Hepatitis B"[Mesh].


For help with using subject headings in PubMed, please refer to the video tutorials box on the left of this screen.

    CINAHL Search Tips

    The CINAHL database is another popular database that you have access to while affiliated with UND.  The same basic search strategies that you employed when searching PubMed can be applied to searching CINAHL, just with some minor adjustments to where you point-and-click.  Keep in mind that you can expect some overlap of terminology between the two databases, but many headings are not transferrable from one database to the other.  That's why it's important to look up the subject headings first, then run your search.  For more help with this, please refer to the video tutorials box on the right of this screen.

    Here are some sample subject headings in CINAHL that might be helpful for you when research CLS topics.  Feel free to contact the library if you would like help finding subject headings for your research.

    • Broad
      • "Diagnostic Errors"
      • "Molecular Diagnostic Techniques"
      • "Culture Techniques"
      • "Lab Test Interference"
      • "Lab Test Panels"
    • Narrow
      • "Glucose Clamp Technique,"
      • "Spinal Puncture,"
      • "Urinalysis"

    Sample Search:

    Let's say that you need articles related to the numeric results ("reference values") of tests related to diagnosing Diabetes Mellitus.  After searching for the appropriate subject headings, you might build your CINAHL search as:

    (MH "Diabetes Mellitus") AND (MH "Reference Values")


    For help with using subject headings in CINAHL, please refer to the video tutorials box on the left of this screen.

      Subject Guide

      Devon Olson's picture
      Devon Olson