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Michigan State University

Veterinary Medicine Research Guide

Resources for conducting research in veterinary medicine. Last updated: 12/11/23.

Beginning Your Search

Questions to Ask

When beginning your search it is helpful to consider the following questions before looking at the resources. This can help save you time and limit unnecessary results.

  • Is your topic clear and concise?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the purpose for your search?
  • What are the important keywords or terms?
  • Are there similar terms to include?
  • Do you have any limits to your results? Examples include types of studies, publication dates, languages, etc.
  • What types of resources do you hope to find? What alternatives will you consider if these resources do not exist?
  • How will your search change if you do not find the resources you expect?

Other Things to Consider

Other things to consider when searching the scientific literature:

  1. Where you search will depend on what type of resources you wish to find. It may be necessary to search in multiple places depending on your topic.
  2. Searches should change over time. The information that you find may alter your original search topic.
  3. When creating a search strategy start broad and make changes one at a time to narrow your results.
  4. It is possible to narrow a search too much and retrieve no results.
  5. Make searches in different databases as consistent or similar as possible so that your findings are comparable.
  6. Always connect to resources through the MSU Libraries so you have access to the full text (when available).

Deciding Where to Search

Deciding where to search depends on the type of information you are looking for and the question being asked. It is also important to consider who the information is for. Some general guidelines:

  • Databases: collections of journal articles, usually limited to a specific subject area. May also contain other types of scholarly communications such as conference presentations.
  • Google Scholar: search engine that limits results to scholarly information. Includes all disciplines and a greater variety of sources.
  • Grey literature: items not published in a traditional format such as a book or journal article. Included association publications, white papers, conference proceedings, and other dissertations. Can be difficult to find.
  • Websites: pages and sites published online. Can be published by anyone so must be careful to judge reliability.

Search Techniques

These techniques can be used in most databases to help make your search more precise.

Truncation *

Searches for multiple word endings

Example: ethic* = ethic, ethics, ethical, ethically

Search Connectors


Can be used to narrow or broaden a search

Example: genetic AND engineering (narrow)
                genetic OR engineering (broaden)

Quotation Marks "..."

Search for the exact phrase

Example: "animal welfare"
                 animal welfare


Criteria set to limit or narrow your search results

Example: language, publication date, article type

Search Tips & Tricks

These guides provide an introduction to searching PubMed and Web of Science. They include tips for building a search strategy that may be useful in other databases.

PubMed Search Strings

The following search strings can be used when searching PubMed. They can be copied and pasted, and adapted for your own search needs.

Evaluating Sources

When evaluating the reliability of a resource it is important to look at it's authority, accuracy, scope, currency, bias, and style. The following questions can be used as a guide when examining each of these criteria:



  • Who is the author?
  • What is their experience and expertise?
  • What is their affiliation?
  • Can you tell what their purpose is for providing this information?


  • Are sources provided for facts and statistics?
  • Do the sources cited seem correct?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Is the information in agreement with other sources?


  • Is the source considered scholarly or popular?
  • Is there a well-reasoned argument?
  • Is the information one-sided?


  • When was the information created?
  • Have there been any recent updates?
  • How recent are the cited sources?


  • Why was the resource created?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Does the author indicated any conflicts of interest?
  • Is the author trying to sway opinion or promote a product?


  • Is the language clear and easy to understand?
  • Does the source appear professional looking?
  • If there are links, are they broken?
  • Are figures and illustrations easy to read?
  • Is the information well-organized?


Identifying a Scientific Paper

There are many things to consider when identifying a scientific paper, but the following can be used as guidelines:

  1. Usually 5 main components: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Conclusion.
    1. May also have keywords, acknowledgements, and appendices.
    2. Appearance may vary depending on publisher and platform.
  2. Author(s) and affiliation(s) clearly identified.
  3. Detailed bibliography or works cited.
  4. Often peer-reviewed.
    1. Peer-reviewed means that the paper has been reviewed by other experts in the field who judged the quality of the paper before it was published.

Note: With the exception of peer-review, meeting the criteria above does not say anything about the credibility or reliability of a paper. You should still consider the guidelines discussed for Evaluating Sources.

Reading a Paper

It is often necessary to read a paper multiple times before completely understanding it. As you are reading, pay attention to the following:

  • Are previous findings supported by evidence?
  • What is the hypothesis/what is being tested?
  • What is the sample size? Is it representative of a larger population?
  • Do the methods make sense? Is the study repeatable?
  • Do the results make sense for the methods used?
  • Does the author address any shortcomings of the study?
  • Look closely and graphs and figures and try and interpret what data is being presented without looking at the captions or text of the paper. Do you come to the same conclusion as the author(s)?
  • Does the author link findings and issues to other research in the field? Do they discuss possible future research?

It can be helpful to take notes and highlight key findings while reading the paper, then write down a summary of major points after finishing the paper. The inforgraphic How to Read a Scientific Paper provides more information on this process.

Finally, after you have read a paper and feel confident that you understand it, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Why did I choose this paper?
  2. Does the outcome change what I know/want to do?
  3. Do I have enough information?