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Image banner: BIOL 4015  Honours Biomedical Research A

1. Overview

This assignment requires you to critically review and analyse the literature and resources related to your research project and develop the aims and hypotheses for your research proposal.

Always refer to your LearnOnine course page for assignment detail and marking criteria.

In this section, you will learn how to:

  • develop a research question
  • breakdown your research question into key concepts
  • search in the Library catalogue
  • search in the databases
  • use Endnote to manage your references

2. Develop a research question

Follow the table below to learn the steps in converting a topic into a research question.

Pick a topic:
Pandemic vaccine challenges


Narrow the topic by being more specific

  • Type of vaccines?
  • Types of challenges?
  • Geography & population (where and who?) 

Preliminary literature search

You will need to do more readings on the background information of your topic. You may refer to your textbook or journal articles that you find interesting.

Ask more focus questions

  • What are the challenges in the development and production of pandemic influenza vaccines?
  • What are the logistic and economic challenges in developing influenza vaccines during the pandemic?

Pick one and focus

What are the challenges in the development and production of pandemic influenza vaccines?

3. Identifying key concepts and alternative terms

Before you start looking for information, use the following steps to plan your search:

  1. Define any words you are unsure of.
  2. Identify the main ideas (key concepts) in the statement. These will form the foundation of your search.
  3. Then consider alternative words for your key concepts which you can also search for. 

Here is your example question:

What are the challenges in the development and production of pandemic influenza vaccines in developing countries?

A table can be a useful strategy for organising key concepts and alternative concepts or synonyms.

Key concepts
Alternative keywords

pandemic influenza

flu pandemic / influenza pandemic / viral pandemic


vaccination / immunisation / immunization / inoculation / antiserum 

development / production

formulation / manufacture 


restrictions / problems / obstacles

This is not a comprehensive search, you may find more concepts as you begin your search for background information.

4. Plan your search

Next combine your terms:



combines all the alternative keywords for the same concept vaccination OR immunisation


combines different key concepts

"flu pandemic"

Truncation, wildcard & phrase search

* (truncation)

finds a word with alternative endings 
(it must be used at the end of a word)

vaccin* will find
vaccination, vaccines, vaccinate

"phrase search"
"word + word"

use double quotation marks to search two or more words together in an exact order "influenza pandemic"

Searching word with a hyphen– 

when you search any keyword that spelt with a hypen, search both spellings separately COVID-19 OR "COVID 19"
Here is the example search:
"pandemic influenza" OR "flu pandemic" OR "influenza pandemic" OR "viral pandemic"
vaccin* OR immunisation OR immunization OR inoculat* OR antiserum
Develop* OR formula* OR manufactur* OR produc*
challeng* OR restrict* OR problem* OR obstacle*

Types of resources

Scholarly journal articles contain highly focused and current research information. They provide peer-reviewed studies and up-to-date information with highly focused research questions. 

Note: Not all journal articles are peer-reviewed, below is a table that explains different types of journal articles. Click on the + symbols to reveal more information.

Apply your search: Library Catalogue

The Library Catalogue: advance search can be a useful starting point to do a quick search for peer-reviewed articles. However, searching in Library databases will also give you more comprehensive information on a particular topic.

Below is an example of a search strategy that combines different concepts and synonyms.

Library catalogue search example: "pandemic influenza" OR "flu pandemic" OR "influenza pandemic" OR "viral pandemic" AND  vaccin* OR immunisation OR immunization OR inoculat* OR antiserum AND Develop* OR formula* OR manufactur* OR produc* AND challeng* OR restrict* OR problem* OR obstacle*

Remember to add a new line for each new concept.

Note: You may filter for Peer-reviewed Journals under Refine my results on the left column.

Apply your search: databases

MEDLINE has a different search interface than most databases. It requires you to enter all the synonyms for one concept at a time, and use AND to combine them together at the end. Follow the step-by-step guide below:


  • Untick Map Term to Subject Heading
  • Search all the keywords and synonyms using OR in your first concept.
  • you will see your first concept displayed in Search History above.

Medline search example; first concept:  "pandemic influenza" OR "flu pandemic" OR "influenza pandemic" OR "viral pandemic" 
STEP 2: Repeat this step for other concepts
Medline search second concept: vaccin* OR immunisation OR immunization OR inoculat* OR antiserum Medline search, concept 3: develop* OR formula* OR manufactur* OR produc* Medline search fourth concept: challeng* OR restrict* OR problem* OR obstacle*

STEP 3: In Search History, tick all your concepts and combine them with AND.
Medline search, combine all your concepts

Emcare uses the same Ovid search interface and you can search the same way as you search for MEDLINE.
Once you have conducted your search in MEDLINE, you can simply switch the database to Emcare:

STEP 1: Above the search bar, select Change
Switching database to Emcare from Medline

STEP 2: in the pop-up window, select Embase, then select Run Search.
an image of 'Select resources to search' window with Embase database ticked

Search example: Scopus

Searching in Scopus is similar to the Library Catalogue (see above). Make sure you select Documents. To add another concept line, select Add search field

search example in Scopus databases: search each concept on a seperate field.

Search example: Web of Science

Searching in Web of Science is similar to the Library Catalogue. Select + Add row to add another concept line.

Web of science databases search example: search each concept in seperate search field

Referencing support

Other referencing support tools: Referencing software (EndNote)

What do you do with all those references you have found? Use a bibliographic management software to store, organise and cite your references.

The Library supports the bibliographic management tool EndNote. There are also many free systems available.

EndNote Guide

Learn more

Watch the video below to learn more about how to plan your search:

  • Searching for your whole assignment is not very effective
  • Mapping out your search is a good place to start
  • Identify the key concepts in your question or topic
  • You don't need to search for task words
  • Use double quotation marks (" ") to search for two or more words together as a phrase
  • Think about what other words (synonyms and alternative terms) might be used to describe the key concepts
  • You can use acronyms, but you should search for the full terms as well
  • To find fewer results, add different concepts using AND (e.g. rural AND Australia)
  • To find more results, add synonyms or alternative terms, to your search using OR (e.g. "renewable energy" OR solar OR wind)
  • You can change your search as you find more information
  • For more information, read the How to plan your search document