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Literature Searches: Welcome

This guide is designed to help you perform literature searches. If you still have questions about literature searches after reviewing this information, please contact me.


The Health Sciences Library has a variety of electronic and print materials for you to use when conducting literature searches. This guide will provide tips on conducting literature searches so you can effectively utilize these resources for your research or patient care needs.  

Library resources can be accessed both on and off campus via our OpenAthens authentication management tool. 

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.  You can also visit the library's website:

Logging in to access library resources

In order to access library resources, you need to login using OpenAthens, a system that allows us to authenticate your affiliation with the library.  

PA College users -log in using your college email address and password.

Penn Medicine LGH users - log in using your LGH username and password.

See the link below for detailed instructions and screen shots.

What is a literature search?

A literature search is sometimes called a literature review or a research review. It is a search of the resources (the literature) to determine what is known about your topic and where the research is lacking. Literature searches can be used to provide you with background information on a topic you are researching, they can provide you with ideas for your own research because they will allow you to see the gaps in the literature, or they can be used to find the information or evidence you need to answer a research question. The type of research you are doing and the purpose of your search will dictate the type of articles you should search for and what resources you should use.

Conducting a literature search

In order to complete a literature search, you must do the following:

1. Identify your topic and create a focused research question. This focused question is typically created using the PICO format. The PICO question box below explains this concept.

2. Determine what resources you need to answer your question. In most cases, you will be looking for scholarly journal articles and/or evidence-based practice resources. You must also determine your date range for material publication and the type of studies or research you want to find.

3. Decide which databases you will search. If you aren't sure which terms to use or which databases will work best for you, start with the library's discovery tool, Summon. This will search across multiple databases at the same time. The library also provides access to CINAHL Complete and MEDLINE Complete. You can also look at PubMed, which is the National Network of Libraries of Medicine's database. CINAHL has its own set of subject headings you can use if the terms you are searching do not return the desired information. MEDLINE and PubMed use MESH headings if you need to make your search more specific. Links to these databases can be found below, and the guide below provides information on using these headings. 

If you are including web resources in your literature search, then you must also decide which websites are credible and relevant. Keep the CRAAP test in mind. 

4. Develop a search strategy and conduct the search. Your search strategy will include possible search terms to use and different ways of combining these terms. You must also limit your search based on what resources you need to answer your question (determined in Step 2).

The resources below will help you with your literature search.

5. Review your list of search results and modify the search as needed. You may find that your search terms are too broad or are too narrow. You may need to try different combinations of words, or you may even need to use synonyms. 

If you need an article that the library does not have access to, click the accompanying link to request the item through interlibrary loan (ILL). In most cases, the library can obtain the article at no cost to you. You can also complete ILL article and book request forms here

If at any point you have questions during a literature search, please see a librarian. If you are a student, you may also want to clarify questions and requirements with faculty.

Forming your PICO question

When performing a literature search, a focused research question will help you narrow your search strategies. Developing a solid research question is a good start to search, but keep in mind that your search strategy may still need to be modified to find the best evidence to answer your question. In health sciences, particularly when searching for evidence-based resources, you should frame your question as a PICO question.

PICO stands for

  • Patient or Population
  • Intervention (also prognostic factor or exposure)
  • Comparison (if applicable)
  • Outcome (your desired outcome)

You may see this question written as a PICO(T) question, in which case the T stands for Time (your timeline or amount of time). 

Click on the worksheets below to see examples of how to set up your PICO question and to plan your PICO question.



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Ryan Nadeau
Learning Commons
(717) 947-6239


Please note that appointments are encouraged to make sure a librarian is available to meet with you.


Greenfield (Learning Commons at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences):
Monday–Friday: 5:30 a.m.–11:00 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday: 6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Space only staffed Monday–Friday: 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. with other hours available by appointment


410 North Lime Street:

No regularly scheduled times are currently available. Please reach out to make an appointment.


Please check Library News​ for any changes to hours including during semester breaks

Contacting Us

Librarians are available through the options below.

  • Email:   
  • Telephone: 717-947-6022
  • Appointments: Schedule an in-person, Zoom, or phone appointment through Starfish.

Please check Library News​ for any changes to hours including during semester breaks

Interlibrary Loan

While the library databases provide full-text access to thousands of articles and the library print collection provides access to numerous books, there may be times when you need to order an item from another library. The following link takes you to the Library forms page. You can complete an article request form for journal articles or a book request form for books.

Health Sciences Library - Seraph Learning Commons - Cooper Building - 850 Greenfield Road - Lancaster, PA 17601 - - (717 947-6022).PA Forward logo