Skip to Main Content

Library Services




A subject guide to library resources for students and staff in the Faculty of Medical Sciences including the UCL Medical School

On this page

On this page you can read about how to effectively search the biomedical and health literature to support your assignments, projects and research, and where to get further training assistance.

How to Search for Literature

Literature searching may sound daunting, but there are so many tools at your disposal to make life easier. 

  • To get started, we recommend you check out the e-book How to read a paper by Trisha Greenhalgh. This excellent resource will help you to understand why systematic searching and gathering good quality evidence is so important, and how you can build your own searches and protocols to do it really well.
  • Second, work through the online tutorial 'Essential search skills for biomedical databases' further down in this page. This will introduce you to boolean search logic and the specific interfaces of several key biomedical databases.
  • Next, check out the 'Guides for searching databases' box. Here you will find lots more detail on how to use the most important biomedical databases: Medline, PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science.
  • After that, think about your own research project. Break down your topic area into key research components. The more specific you can be, the better. You may also find the PICO approach detailed below useful for creating a well-rounded clinical question.
  • Finally, try searching! Once you have selected your databases and finalised your protocol, navigate to the Biomedicine & Health A-Z Databases page (linked below) and have a go. Searching is about experimentation, so don't worry if it takes you a few gos to get the hang of it. Remember, you can always contact us if you need more help!

Essential search skills for biomedical databases

Essential search skills for biomedical datbases

The PICO Framework

PICO is a planning tool that can be used to structure clinical research questions. It helps to create a focused search topic, whilst also encouraging you to think about the alternate search terms that might be used to describe your topic elements.

Q: Is the use of ibuprofen more effective than paracetamol at reducing fever in young children?

P - Patient/Population

Under 5s

I - Intervention


C - Control/Comparison


O - Outcome

Reducing fever
Lowering temperature
Symptom management
Uncontrolled symptoms

Search strategies for literature searching

This online tutorial uses a series of videos and activities to demonstrate some top tips for enhancing your searching skills. The extract below looks at how you decide what terms to use.