21.3  Searching

Finding studies on public health and health promotion interventions is much more complicated than retrieving medical studies due to literature being widely scattered (Peersman 2001). The multidisciplinary nature of public health and health promotion means that studies can be found in a number of different areas and through a wide range of electronic databases (Beahler 2000, Grayson 2003). Difficulties also arise because terminology is imprecise and constantly changing (Grayson 2003). Therefore, searching for public health and health promotion literature can be a very complex task, and requires authors to use retrieval methods other than database searching to retrieve studies.


To overcome some of the difficulties in identifying the qualitative research, current best practice requires the researcher to conduct comprehensive searches (e.g. sensitive searches of multiple sources). However, this approach, which attempts to maximize the number of relevant records identified, results in the retrieval of high numbers of records, many of which will not be relevant (Shaw 2004).  Due to inadequate indexing terms for qualitative research in bibliographic databases, we do not currently recommend that study design filters be applied. We recognize that often pragmatic decisions may need to be taken when balancing the time and other resources required in conducting comprehensive searches against the ratio of relevant to non-relevant studies identified. Researchers may decide that they need to apply study design filters and, if so, they need to report this when describing their search strategies to make the potential limitations of the searches clear. Table 21.3.a lists some electronic databases relevant to a variety of public health and health promotion topics.