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Library Resources for Fall 2011 Comprehensive Exam Workshop

Dr. Denise Herd

Presented by Michael Sholinbeck

URL for this web page: www.lib.berkeley.edu/PUBL/SPH/CompExamWorkshop2011.html


The Public Health Library, Location, Reference, Off-Campus Access to Library Resources

Sheldon Margen Public Health Library: Library hours: M-Th 9-8, F 9-5, Sa-Su 1-5

Reference Services
In-person come to 1 University Hall (in the basement): Reference Desk hours: M-F 10-12, 2-4
Other options include IM chat (24/7) and email reference.

How to set up off-campus access to library resources (databases, online journals, etc.)

Starting the Process

The CDCynergy Health Communication/Health Education Planning Model: (from CDC and SOPHE)

  1. Defining and describing the problem(s)
  2. Analyzing the problem
  3. Plan the intervention, including audience segmentation
  4. Developing communication strategies and tactics
  5. Developing an evaluation plan
  6. Launching the plan and obtaining feedback

Overview: Evidence-Informed Decision Making in Public Health (from National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools, Canada). This is part of an online learning module, and includes:

  1. What is evidence-informed public health?
  2. Define: Clearly define the question or problem
  3. Search: Efficiently search for research evidence
  4. Appraise: Critically and efficiently appraise the information sources
  5. Synthesize: Interpret information and form recommendations for practice
  6. Adapt: Adapt the information to the local context
  7. Implement: Decide whether (and plan how) to implement the evidence
  8. Evaluate: Assess the effectiveness of implementation efforts

What causes disease?
How you conceptualize your topic affects how you search for relevant information. Consider first perhaps the interaction and interdependence of environmental factors (eg, pollution, disasters, outbreaks) and social factors (eg, smoking, obesity, drug use). You may also wish to consider other aspects of your topic.
  » Is exacerbation of asthma in West Oakland "caused" by air pollution and/or smoking?
    » Or, is it "caused" by inadequate regulation of transportation, energy production, and/or tobacco?
      » Or by historical racism in housing and neighborhood characteristics?
        » What about genetic factors? poverty? stress?
          » What about access to appropriate prescription drugs?
Think about the wider context of your topic. Do some preliminary exploration, both in the literature and in discussions with your teachers, advisors, and peers. What are the relevant scientific and policy circumstances?

Is your topic researchable?
You may need to broaden or narrow the focus of your topic.
This may become more apparent as you search for and find information. It may prove difficult to find research on very narrow topics, or to cope with the vast literature on an un-focused, broad topic.

How researchable do you think the following topics may be?
  1. "The harmful effects of domestic beer consumption among female students at Cal's Big Game"
  2. "Social factors contributing to binge drinking among college students in the United States"
  3. "Alcohol consumption by young adults"

What is the scope of your search?
Literature searching always involves balancing finding all relevant citations (which means you may also find many non-relevant citations) with finding only relevant citations (which means you may miss some relevant citations).

    » The search scope influences how you focus or limit your search when using online databases, as well as when you decide you have "enough."

Which disciplines are concerned with your topic?
Which aspect(s) - legal, political, environmental, behavioral etc. - of your topic is/are of interest?

» Answering these questions will help you decide which databases to search for literature.
Although PubMed may be the best place to start for most public health topics, you may miss key literature if you do not use other resources.
Use your question as the basis for deciding where to search. More information in the Beyond PubMed ... section, below.

The importance of indexing
» Do you want articles on labor (as in work) or articles on labor (as in giving birth)? Or is it labour?
Indexing facilitates more precise search statements, especially for topics that are vague or ambiguous.
Using index terms also helps you avoid the need to think of every possible synonym or alternate spelling of your search terms.
Indexing means the citations in the database are assigned terms from a controlled vocabulary; not all databases use a controlled vocabulary, however.
Index terms are sometimes called descriptors or thesaurus terms; in PubMed they are called Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH
» More information is in the database sections below.

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PubMed Tips

Citations to over 21 million journal articles (and a small but growing number of books/book chapters),
with links to full text via

PubMed top tips for focusing your search:

  1. Combine terms with AND or OR
  2. Use Limits (Age group, Publication type, language, etc.)
  3. Search for your term as a word in the title or title or abstract (using Limits)
  4. Use MeSH, with subheadings
  5. Try PubMed's Clinical Queries or Topic-Specific Queries
  6. Use the Related Articles link, once you find a set of relevant citations
  » Information on these follows:

» PubMed Quick Guide: Basic search help.
» PubMed exercise set (PDF; Public Health Library): Use these to hone your PubMed skills.

» Combining search terms with Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT - remember Venn diagrams?)

» Limits: Limit your search by language, age group, publication type, publication date, and more. Also use Limits search for words in the article title, abstract, or Medical Subject Heading (MeSH). Note that Limits stay in effect until you clear them.

» Use Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):

» Clinical Queries: Find systematics reviews on your topic; use etiology for a "cause of disease" search; consider that therapy encompasses any type of intervention.
» Topic-Specific Queries use "canned" search strategies to fetch a citation subset of PubMed. Some examples of topic-specific queries include:
» Saving citations temporarily using the Clipboard
» My NCBI: Saving search results, searches, and more: customize PubMed to meet your needs.

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Other Resources for Finding Articles, Books, and other sources of studies and evidence Getting Started with UC-eLinks     access paid by UCB

Subjects include all aspects of agriculture: agricultural economics, nutrition, hunger, food production, agricultural chemicals, etc.
» Agricola does not use a controlled vocabulary. Use the subject descriptor index to find terms, or focus your search by using title words.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Nutritionally induced diseases, WIC program, women in rural development ...

Business Source Complete
Marketing, management, economics, finance, accounting, and more. Besides journal literature, BSC includes financial data, conference proceedings, case studies, investment research reports, industry reports, market research reports, country reports, company profiles, SWOT analyses, and more.
» BSC does use a controlled vocabulary. Click Subjects on the right side to browse the thesaurus.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Search by company or industry, public health topics form a marketing point of view ...

Global Health
Citations in environmental and occupational health, food safety and hygiene, infectious diseases, medical microbiology, nutrition, public health, toxicology, zoonoses, and more. Sources include journals, books, reports, conference proceedings, patents, theses, and electronic only publications. Significantly more international coverage than PubMed.
» Global Health does use a controlled vocabulary. Use the drop-down menu and select Descriptors then click to browse the thesaurus.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Search by (relatively narrow) geographic locations (ie, setting), or country in which work published.
» Global Health Help (PDF)

Citations in psychology, behavior, and related disciplines; includes citations of journal articles, conference proceedings, books and book chapters, reports and dissertations.
» PsycINFO does use a controlled vocabulary. Click Search Tools then Thesaurus to browse for terms.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Economic security, community attitudes, socioeconomic class attitudes, labeling, test/measurement index ...
» PsycINFO Quick Guide (PDF)

Social Work Abstracts
Citations on topics such as homelessness, HIV/AIDS, child and family welfare, aging, substance abuse, legislation, community organization, and more.
» Social Work Abstracts does not use a controlled vocabulary. Use the subject term index to find terms: click Indexes and choose Subjects to browse for terms, or use title words.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Age bias, family functioning, resiliency, ...
» Social Work Abstracts Help

Sociological Abstracts
Citations in demography, education, law, social psychology, and sociology. Sources include journals, books, conferences and meetings, and dissertations.
» Sociological Abstracts does use a controlled vocabulary. Click Search Tools then Thesaurus to browse for terms.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Cultural capital, peer relations, victimization, family structure, strategies, neighborhoods, social constructionism, ...
» Sociological Abstracts Exercise (PDF; Public Health Library)
» Sociological Abstracts Fact Sheet

Web of Science
Large, multidisciplinary database; links to cited articles and times cited are provided for retrieved articles.
» Web of Science does not use a controlled vocabulary; it uses author keywords and keywords assigned algorithmically.
» What's not in PubMed?
    Scope of database is broad; best resources for cited reference searching; can sort search results by times cited.
» Search Tips for Web of Science
» Cited Reference Searching


Use the library catalogs to find books, reports, etc. on your topic.
Over 10 million volumes; maybe there's one on your topic:

OskiCat: Catalog of UCB
» OskiCat Help
Next-Gen Melvyl: Catalog of all UC, and beyond
» Next-Gen Melvyl Help

Sources of systematic reviews and other evidence-based public health evaluations
"Systematic reviews seek to collate all evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to address a specific research question. They aim to minimize bias by using explicit, systematic methods." (from Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.cochrane-handbook.org).

Grey Literature
Grey Literature generally refers to publications not produced by commercial publishers, including reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, and other documents. They are often produced by government entities, research institutions, or NGOs/IGOs.

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Statistical Information:

What to consider when looking at survey or estimated data:

Adopted from information on the UCSF Family Health Outcomes Project web site

US Census

American Factfinder
Information on demography, poverty, housing, employment, economics, and more. Census 2000 information available down to census block level; Census 2010 information continually added.


Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System: BRFSS
BRFSS tracks health conditions and risk behaviors in the United States. BRFSS provides state-specific prevalence and trends information about issues such as asthma, diabetes, health care access, alcohol use, hypertension, obesity, cancer screening, nutrition and physical activity, tobacco use, and more.
» BRFSS Prevalence and Trends Data: Information on about 20 topics/categories.
» BRFSS SMART (Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Area Risk Trends): Analyzed BRFSS data of selected areas with over 500 respondents.
» BRFSS Maps: Maps of BRFSS questionnaire responses. GIS data downloads also available.

YRBSS: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
Information on youth risk behaviors. Note: There is no California statewide data, but there is data for some large CA cities.

Provides a single point of access to a wide variety of public health reports and data systems, both local and external, categorized by topic, alphabetically, or by utilizing online query systems.


Child Trends DataBank
"Latest national trends and research on over 100 key indicators of child and youth well-being."

California and Local Statistics

California Health Interview Survey: CHIS
Instantly get state and local data on hundreds of health topics. Run your own customized search using AskCHIS, review publications and data summaries, and more. CHIS is the state's largest health survey.

2007 California County Data Book (Children Now)
County-level data on children's health, education and economic well-being in an easy to read format. Also includes County Rankings and County Data by Race/Ethnicity.

US EPA Zip Code Search
Info on hazardous waste sites, toxic releases, facility enforcement/compliance history, air pollution, and cleanup activities.

Data and Statistics, California Department of Education
Data on school enrollment, non-English language learners, free lunch numbers, teacher data, class size, and much more.


Global Health Observatory (World Health Organization)
Access to data and analyses for monitoring the global health situation.

Regional Core Health Data Initiative (Pan-American Health Organization)
Health Indicators for Western Hemisphere countries in an interactive table format, as well as Country Health Profiles and a GIS query and display.

Measure DHS
Demographic and Health Surveys information in interactive table format. Data on MCH issues, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, youth, etc. GIS mapper and data also available.

World Development Indicators Online
This database, produced by the World Bank, provides access to over 800 indicators with time series for 209 countries and 18 country groups from 1960 to 2008. Data includes vital statistics, demographics, labor force, health expenditures, malnutrition, pollution, trade, consumption, GDP, GNP, investment activity, debt, and much more.

More Resources

Local public health departments are often a good source of community statistics and other information. See, for example, reports and data offered by

See also the Public Health Library's Statistical/Data Resources web page

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Health Promotion Planning and Evaluation Resources:

Community Toolbox (Univ. of Kansas)
Provides over 6,000 pages of practical skill-building information on over 250 different topics. Topic sections include step-by-step instruction, examples, check-lists, and related resources. It has sections on leadership, strategic planning, community assessment, advocacy, grant writing, and evaluation, as well as Best Practices examples and evidence. Tool Box will help with skill building, work planning, and troubleshooting.

Prevention Institute: Tools
Support the crafting, implementation, and evaluation of comprehensive prevention initiatives and effective coalitions. The tools include information on developing effective coalitions, developing prevention plans, and more.

Model Programs and more

Programs that Work (Promising Practices Network)
Summaries of programs and practices that are proven to improve outcomes for children.
» The Research in Brief section includes research summaries, reviewed and selected to provide objective, high-quality evidence.

Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (UCSF)
Information of programs, collaboration, researchers, and more.
» CAPS Model Prevention Programs

Best Practices Compendium (Advance Africa)
Database of proven practices to be used by program managers who have identified gaps, needs, and opportunities in their programs.

Model Practices Database (NACCHO)
Search by state or categories. Each record includes an overview of the program, contact information, web site, and an evaluation.

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Critically Evaluating What You Find

What is evidence?

Reliability and validity
Adopted from Chapter 3, Conducting research literature reviews : from the Internet to paper, by Arlene Fink; Sage, 2010.
Reliable data collection: relatively free from "measurement error."
  » Is the survey written at a reading level too high for the people completing it?
  » If I measure something today, then measure it again tomorrow using the same scale, will it vary? Why?
Validity refers to how well a measure assesses what it claims to measure
  » If the survey is supposed to measure "quality of life," how is that concept defined? Is it measurable?
Extensive discussions of reliability and validity are available in several texts, such as Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd Ed.; M. Tsuang et al. Wiley. 2011; See chapters 5 and 7).

What to consider when looking at survey or estimated data:
Adopted from information on the UCSF Family Health Outcomes Project web site

Critical Appraisal Tools
Critical Appraisal of Intervention Studies is a free online learning module from Canada's National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools. It demonstrates how to assess the quality of an intervention study and to develop skill in applying the criteria for critical appraisal of an intervention study to enable you to determine whether that intervention can be applied to your own public health situation.
  » Here is a summary table of basic considerations for critical appraisal of intervention studies

The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (UK) links to a set of brief PDF checklist documents on critically evaluating different types of studies (eg, systematic reviews, cohort studies, RCTs, qualitative studies, etc.).

Critical appraisal of epidemiological studies and clinical trials (J. M. Elwood. Oxford University Press, 2007) has several chapters that provide detailed information on critically evaluating different kinds of studies. This book is available both online and in the Public Health Library:

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Organize Your Citations and Search Strategy

Organizing Your Literature Search/Search Results
Charts like this Literature Review Matrix (.doc) help you organize what you find in your literature search.
(This is a simplified version of the matrix presented in Health sciences literature review made easy: the matrix method, J. Garrard; Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2011, available in the Public Health Library, call number R118.6 .G37 2011; Reference Section)
  » You can adapt RefWorks, EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to be used with a matrix like this by using notes or custom fields in your database.
      » Take a class to learn how to use these programs, all of which greatly simplify keeping track of citations you find.
      » This EndNote custom style was created for use with a literature review matrix; download it to the Styles folder in your EndNote program.

Save your search strategies: Nearly all the databases you use to find articles, etc., retain your search history. Literature reviews, like epidemiological research, should be rigorous and reproducible. Save or print your search history to help document your search strategy, which will include:

Using PubMed's Clipboard and My NCBI can help with both saving your search strategy and the citations you find;
See links in the PubMed section, above.

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