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Information and resources in support of FLEX projects


Knowing where to look is as important as knowing how to look. UBC subscribes to a number of databases that are relevant to the health sciences. While there is some overlap in the publications they index, each has unique coverage and works slightly differently.

Search Strategies

Searching is an iterative process that involves isolating key terminology and key players in your area of inquiry. Looking at references and using a database's 'cited by' feature is a great way to explore. Google Scholar can be a good place start.

However, databases like Medline and EMBASE offer many advantages including a high rate of accuracy and replicable searches, both critical aspects of a systematic search.

Effective use of these databases requires an understanding of how subject terms (e.g., MeSH), are used, as well how subject terms can be combined with keyword or phrase searching for a more thorough search.  In addition to the resources below, students are encouraged to consult with their librarian.

Articulating your question & brainstorming search terms

Use the PICO worksheet to help isolate the core concepts in your question and build a list of search terms.

Resources for advanced searching




Additional Resources

Grey Literature

The term "grey literature" refers to the information produced outside of traditional publishing and distribution channels. This could include government reports, plans or policy statements, dissertations, conference proceedings, research reports, newsletters, etc. Depending on your topic and the scope of your research, grey literature can be very important. CADTH has produced an excellent guide to help researchers plan their grey literature searching, called Grey Matters, as well as a guide to COVID-19 vaccine grey literature resources. Grey Matters may help you determine what kinds of grey literature are likely to be relevant to your research project. Many types of grey literature can be located through targeted web searching. The Google Advanced Search can be helpful in targeting specific domains (e.g., .edu, .gov, Please see the guide below for more tips.

Search Filters and Hedges

Filters (sometimes referred to as hedges or clinical queries or optimized searches) are standardized search strings used to identify particular types of studies, populations, or topics. In some cases, they are validated to ensure they are accurately identifying items about the desired topic. Filters are typically intended to be very comprehensive and may not be necessary (or available) for many topics. However, they can be a great help in some instances, for example a new topic where terminology is evolving rapidly and the subject headings/indexing may not have caught up (e.g, COVID-19), or in cases where the existing subject headings are insufficient/outdated and/or in the process of changing (e.g., Indigenous peoples).