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Where to find medical and anatomical research

Recommended video: How to find medical research and literature [08:35]
Learn how to find the best information in the medical field.

Today, thanks to platforms like Google and Wikipedia, we have quick and easy access to a wealth of medical and anatomical information with just the click of a mouse.

Such platforms are useful for getting an overview of a subject. However, the aim when looking for medical and anatomical information should always be to use accurate and reliable sources, like those found in academic research articles. 

This is a tricky area to navigate, though. You may be wondering where to find research articles, and how to tell a high quality one from a poorer quality one. There are plenty more confusing elements to consider, too, like the different types of academic research, and how this can influence the results of a given study. 

Don't stress. In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • where to look
  • how to look
  • tips and tricks to get the most out of your research
  • and common mistakes to avoid along the way

when searching for medical and anatomy research. Let's get started!

  1. Determine your search criteria 
    1. Refining your results
    2. Primary and secondary sources
  2. The best medical research databases
    1. Non-database sources
  3. Keeping up to date with new research
  4. Summary
  5. Sources
+ Show all

Determine your search criteria 

Finding medical research and literature boils down to one crucial starting point: before you begin any search, you should have a good idea of what exactly you are searching for. It’s important that you are very clear on what your medical or anatomy research topic is, what answer you are trying to find and what types of research will be best placed to provide you with relevant information.

So, how do you determine your search criteria? Well, first you will need to analyse your research topic. What are the key component parts? Think about keywords within your topic that you could use as search terms as well as synonyms and variations of the term you search for. Outside of textbooks, the literature search engines found in medical databases and archives (discussed below) provide lots of options for refining your search criteria, for example limiting the results to human studies only, or studies conducted withing the last 10 years, and so on. 

The information you gain from doing this can help to provide you with a clearer focus by filtering out irrelevant details. This is important, as there is a lot of information out there, and it can be easy to get sidetracked!

Try to avoid using general search terms as this may result in too many hits - a large fraction of which are often useless. On the other hand, if you use terms that are too specific, this may also lead to missing out on important information that may be related to your search. If you're struggling to find something specific, a lot of larger academic libraries provide consulting services from subject librarians that can help you find subject-specific information.

As you carry out your search and analyse your results, you may find new keywords, terms or aspects of your search that you were not previously aware of. Refine and repeat your search to include these new aspects of information. Research is a cyclical process!

Need some support with your studies? Check out our guide on how and where to find anatomy study tools.

Refining your results

Here are some common search limits provided by literature search engines that you can use to specify the type of research your search delivers.

Publication date

Usually, if you are using scientific research to answer your medical or anatomy research topic or back up your claim, more recently published research is more highly regarded as it reflects up to date findings in the particular area of research.

However, a historical perspective may be useful if you are, for example, looking to find the initial research in which a particular theory or protocol originated. Both types of research can be found on medical research databases and archives. Perhaps you will use a mixture of old and new research. Your personal research aims will inform the publication dates you will focus on finding research within.

Patient characteristics

Another important factor is patient characteristics. These refer to variables such as age, sex, environment and type of condition.

Filtering your search depending on any one of these variables will have a huge influence on the type of research you consequently find, and most importantly, the implications of the research. For example, if a study was conducted using exclusively male subjects, how might the results differ if the same experiment was conducted on female subjects? 


Additionally, the geography of the research is important as the findings may be location specific, and therefore not applicable or useful for your particular research. For example, was the research conducted in a UK population only? Or was it done on Southeast Asians? How might this affect the research results?

Study type

Lastly, the study type can provide clues to the reliability and validity of the study’s findings. The type of studies most appropriate to your research depends, once again, on the question you are looking to answer.

Randomised controlled trials, or RCT’s for short, are considered the gold standard in scientific research because they are thought to have a low risk of false causality claims and experimental bias.

Meta-analyses are great for delivering an overview of all of the research conducted into a specific subject area.

Case studies can provide interesting information about unusual cases within a population. Case studies are interesting but not especially useful, as they do not tell us about the population as a whole. 

Primary and secondary sources

Before we take a look at the best places to find medical information and literature, let us first look at the different sources you will likely come across in your search. Primary and secondary sources refer to two classes of information that differ in the degree to which the author is removed from the findings they describe.

Primary sources: provide direct or first hand evidence about a topic by the person who investigated it. It is a raw material of the research process. For example, a scientific paper documenting a researcher’s experiment.

Secondary sources: interpret, assign value to and draw conclusions about the information presented within primary sources of information. This would include mediums such as books, newspaper articles and article reviews.

When you are looking for medical research and literature, make sure that primary sources of information account for the majority of your notes.

Now let’s take a look at the different platforms you can use to find medical research and literature.

The best medical research databases

In terms of how to find medical and anatomical articles, research databases and archives are the best and most commonly used resources. Oftentimes, access to certain medical information and literature may not be obtainable through regular search engines. Some important databases may only be available locally within the intranets of respective universities. Check with your university or learning institution what is available.

Aside from intranet databases, there exist publically available medical research databases that can be accessed for free, such as:

  • PubMed  
  • Cochrane Library
  • and Google Scholar. Note: Google Scholar cross references research articles found on sites like PubMed with Google’s own regular web pages. Sometimes the cross referencing causes the database to return irrelevant websites, books or legal articles. However, generally speaking, Google Scholar makes it easier to access good quality, free full text articles. Just be careful to check the quality of the research before using it to inform your research topic.

In some cases, you may be asked for login information or credit card information to access journal articles on certain medical research databases. However, you can usually read the abstract of the article on whichever medical search enginge you're using, which will help you decide whether or not you want to learn more. In other cases, the journal you are looking for may only be available in printed form in the library holdings. In this case, the use of linking services or a link resolver may be used to find the full text.

Non-database sources

If you are unable to find what you’re looking for from the research papers found within science research databases alone, other forms of respected evidence include:

  • Publications on clinical guidelines e.g. those from the organisation NICE.
  • Monographs from organisations like the World Health Organisation or the British National Formulary.
  • Online learning platforms like Kenhub - great for learning about established anatomical facts, as opposed to new research findings 
  • and Evidence based textbooks

Confused about how to use anatomy resources? Read our effective guide!

However, just because information is printed in a book, does not necessarily mean that it is reliable. Always use textbooks that are used to teach accredited courses or degrees, or that are written by respected authors who work in the field that their book relates to, for instance as a university professor or clinical specialist. If you are using books as an information source, always be mindful to check that the author is qualified to write on this subject and that the information within it is up to date and supported by valid, scientific references.

Keeping up to date with new research

New information, new discoveries and new research articles are published everyday. It is therefore important that you be open to change as well as differing opinions on a subject matter, practice patience with regards to your literature search and your findings, and also be aware that the information you find has often been created by somebody with a certain purpose or even agenda in mind.

A great way to keep your finger on the pulse with new anatomy news and current events is by browsing the contents of journals, reading subject-specific mailing lists, following other researchers on Twitter, browsing the highlighted articles on medical database homepages or even reading subject-specific weblogs. For example, a good English language weblog to keep an eye on is Plos Blogs.

These pointers are just the tip of the iceberg, but we hope you’ve finished reading this article feeling more confident about where and how to find medical and anatomical research articles and literature. Happy researching!

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