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PHM 211--Researching topics in pharmacology and toxicology: Starting Your Research

Research tips

  • Start with the general sources or topics and close in on more specific ones. This will help you to understand what you are reading. Some ways to start general:
  1. Look for background information in textbooks, specialized encyclopedias and reliable web sites. The resources on the Electronic Texts and Books page of this guide are good places to start. 
  2. When searching for scientific literature (for example, in PubMed), look for review articles, like systematic reviews. (These are sometimes also called secondary literature). There may not always be a review on your topic, but if there is, it will summarize the research for you and help you get in-depth background.
  3. After you have read some reviews, you can look in the references of those articles to find primary literature (the first published reports of the findings or data from an experiment or project). You can also look in the reference sections of primary literature that's related to your topic to find more articles. 
  • Before you start searching a database, make a list of specific search terms you can use. Think about the different ways that your topic of interest can be described (for example, drugs may have a number of names). Also consider including singulars and plurals in your search. For example, if you search for "doctor" but not "doctors," you may miss some relevant articles. 

Research pitfalls to avoid!

These are some common mistakes students make--avoid these and and your paper will be both better and easier to write. 

1.  Avoid choosing a very specific topic and starting to look for sources.  Sometimes a narrow topic idea does not have a lot of information published about it., which will make it hard for you to complete your project. If you look at more general topics first, you'll get an idea of which narrower topics will have research published on them. 

2.  Avoid looking for primary articles immediately.  If you don't understand how the primary articles relate to other research being done in the same field, you'll have a hard time knowing which articles are pertinent to your research and which are not. Read secondary literature first so you won't end up writing a paper using articles that aren't well connected. It may not always be obvious to you when this has happened, but it will be obvious to your professor!

3.  Avoid citing sources that are intended for patient education. The information in these sources may be relatively reliable, depending on the source, but they won't explain in detail what methods were used in research, or how scientists came to specific conclusions. When you are writing a research paper, you need to include that information. 

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