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Public Health

Guide Overview

Welcome to the Public Health Research Guide

This guide is an introduction to finding information pertaining to Public Health research.  

In this guide, you will find information on the kinds of resources available to you, and how to use them to find information on Public Health topics. If you have any questions about your topic or a particular resource, please ask one of your librarians!

Public Health research is often interdisciplinary, so we advise referring to research guides in any overlapping areas in addition to using the starting points suggested here.

Be sure to check out our "How To" Guides to help you get started with search skills, writing and citation tips.

Research - Known Issues and On-going Debates

This introduction to some of the issues and on-going debates is intended to prompt further inquiry and critical evaluation of what you find – and don’t find – in the research. It is not a comprehensive overview of the field or the state of the research in the field. Librarians are available to help you explore the research, and help you answer questions about the context of that research. Many of the issues pertaining to public health are the same or similar as for nutrition. 

  • Certain groups such as African Americans and Indigenous people may be underrepresented in the research.1,2
  • Study results published in the media may be misrepresented and/or not understood by the general public.  
  • Study results may appear to be contradictory leading to confusion by the public.  
  • Public health research is often complex and requires the unpacking of multiple confounding variables. 
  1. Bonevski B, Randell M, Paul C, et al. Reaching the hard-to-reach: a systematic review of strategies for improving health and medical research with socially disadvantaged groups. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2014;14:42. Published 2014 Mar 25. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-42 
  2. Baciu A, Negussie Y, Geller A, et al., editors. Chapter 2. The state of health disparities in the United States. Baciu A, Negussie Y, Geller A, et al., editors In: Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017. Accessed April 13, 2021.  

What is Research?

In a broad sense, research is the gathering of facts and information on a particular topic. The goal of research is to further the body of knowledge in a field.

In the field of science, research is a methodical study undertaken to answer a question or prove a hypothesis, and includes an interpretation of the findings. 

Often, these studies are published as articles in scientific journals. Articles can be accessed via individual journals (in print or online), or in databases, which contain mass collections of articles from many different journals.

Research Terms

You may need resources for conducting primary, or secondary research, or both!

Primary Resources: Contain original information like studies, clinical trials, reports, dissertations, technical reports and data that hasn't been interpreted. They don’t summarize, grade, or appraise the studies/data (you do that yourself). Advanced search skills for efficient retrieval are required.

Use Primary Resources for:
  • Topics with a small body of research.
  • New or cutting edge treatments.
  • CAM research (evidence base is often small).
  • Independence: you don’t want to rely on someone else’s opinion; you question the secondary research and want to critically evaluate the studies yourself
  • PubMed
  • Nutrition and Food Sciences (CABI)

Secondary (Filtered) Resources: Contain research that has been evaluated, summarized and/or synthesized such as literature (or systematic) review articles, textbooks and some clinical databases.

Use Secondary Resources For:
  • Topics with a large body of research and consensus on treatment
  • General or factual information
  • Overviews of a medical conditions and treatment options
  • Textbooks (ebooks, print)
  • PEN
  • Natural Medicines
  • Cochrane Library

Are there databases with both?

Many databases, like PubMed, contain both primary and secondary research.   Cochrane, has mainly secondary research (review articles), but also includes abstracts of randomized controlled trials.  In most databases, there are ways to limit to primary or secondary research by using limits or filters.


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