Searching for good quality evidence

R24–1152, PHAR30400, ASYNC Only

Library for Educators
9 min readJan 29, 2024
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

Supporting materials

  • Group: 150
  • Discipline: Pharmacy
  • Level: Year 3
  • Brief: This year students are undertaking a mini research projects. The students will be given the data they need to analyse and receive teaching around analysis. They need help searching for materials about background areas of the project — specifically prescriptions of two specific medications — how they they are utilised across the UK, what are the factors contributing to their use in various areas.
  • Research question: ‘Utilisation patterns of gabapentin and pregabalin in the UK: why is it important and how does it relate to patient’s comorbidities, demographic, lifestyle and socio-economic characteristics?’

Learning outcomes

After engaging with this support, you will be able to:

  • Locate relevant resources for your research question
  • Evaluate the sources you have found
  • Know where to find additional help

A-sync embed content

Content is organised into 4 folders:

  1. Planning your search
  2. Using search tools
  3. Evaluating your sources
  4. Referencing

Planning your search

What am I searching for?

The first step is preparing to turn your topic or question into a set of terms to search for:

  1. Highlight the key concepts in your topic or research question
  2. Identify synonyms — are there any related concepts or other ways to express the same idea which need considering?
  3. Consider alternative spellings or word endings

Identify the key ideas and ways other people might describe those ideas. You can be general or specific. You could arrange them in a mind map like in the image below:

[Examples mind map f topics and search terms]

⭐ Activity: What will you search for?

Let’s take the question below and come up with all of the words and phrases that you can that you could use to search for information to situate your audit.

Utilisation patterns of gabapentin and pregabalin in the UK: why is it important and how does it relate to patient’s comorbidities, demographic, lifestyle and socio-economic characteristics?

Add your words and phrases to the Padlet below. You should be able to see everyone’s contribution. This step is important so do not miss it out as it provides you with a time saves a place to return to should your search not return the results that you require.

[Embedded Padlet title = ‘What words and phrases might you use to find relevant results?’]

Using search tools

📺 Library search

Library Search is a resource for you to search for the articles, books, journals, images etc for your studies held by or subscribed to by The University of Manchester Library.

Why should you use Library search?

It pulls together many of the Library’s systems and allows you to search across them simultaneously so you can quickly see how much information is available on your subject. It’s basically the Library version of Google but the crucial difference is that all the content on there is high quality academic information. It should be one of your the first places you go to for your coursework.

How do I access Library search?

University of Manchester staff and students can access Library Search through My Manchester or through the Library website. Make sure that if you are going via the Library website to sign in to Library Search to ensure that you can view all resources including those restricted to University staff and students.

[Embedded video:]

⭐ Activity: Using Library search

Use Library Search on the Library homepage and carry out a quick search using the keywords and phrases from your list online journal articles.

  • Can you find any evidence specific to community pharmacy?
  • How would you extend the search criteria to locate community pharmacy specifically?

Getting started with Subject databases

This resource explores some of the key features of subject databases, demonstrating that while they can initially appear daunting and complicated, they can be as easy to use as any online shopping site.

Click the image below to launch this interactive resource in a new window:

[Screenshot of Getting started with subject databases resource which links to live resource]

Further resources

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a hugely popular method of searching across scholarly literature. The familiar Google search interface is used to search across a range of academic literature including journals, books, conference proceedings and unpublished papers.

Google does not report the size of the coverage or fully report on the methods it uses to collect the metadata it uses, however it is widely acknowledged to be the most comprehensive search engine of academic material.

[screenshot of google scholar search]

If you are using Google Scholar it is highly recommended that you install a version of our Library Access browser extension. This will ensure that when you follow the link to an article that interests you, a pop up notification will appear if the Library subscribes to that particular journal. This will allow you to enter your University credentials and access the full text of the article from the database.

⭐ Activity 1: Run a search for “corona virus” using Google and then repeat the search using Google Scholar. Note down the differences in the types of results you receive.

⭐ Activity 2: Access and install the Library Access Browser extension. You should also select the “FindIT@Manchester” option from the settings in Google Scholar. This will ensure that when your results are listed you can quickly tell whether the Library has a subscription to the particular journal the article you are interested in was published in. There is information on how to set this up available from the Library website.

⭐ Activity 3: Access Google Scholar settings and select FindIT at Manchester within the Library links section. Google Scholar doesn’t offer the same amount of options for creating search strategies or limiting results as a Database or Library search, but it does contain a number of useful features.

You can limit your results by date, export results to reference management software and generate citations in a variety of styles using the cite button.

[screenshot of google scholar search]

⭐ Activity 4: Generate a citation for an article which interests you using the Google scholar cite button. There is also an Advanced search feature which you may wish to explore which allows for greater precision when using Google Scholar.

Remember that Google Scholar is only one of many search retrieval tools that are available to you as students at the University of Manchester. You should also explore our Library search and Library databases relevant to your subject.

⭐ Activity: What types of non-scholarly source might be useful for your audit?

These might be reports, news articles, press releases or anything else you won’t find in an academic journal. Identifying the organisations that might produce such sources can help you in your search.

[Link and description for search operators resource]

[Link and description for getting started with search tools]

Evaluating your sources

[Link out to evaluating sources of information mle resource]

Popular vs scholarly sources of information

Identifying whether a source is popular or scholarly can give you an indication of how authoritative it is. Scholarly literature is usually written by researchers who are experts in the subject area. In order to get their work published there are standards researchers have to adhere to and processes designed to check the quality of a piece of work before publication.

For instance, to get an academic article published the author must first submit a draft to an academic journal, where it will be reviewed by one or more people with similar experience in the field. This process is called peer review and it helps ensure the quality of academic sources.

If a source has been peer reviewed you can be reasonably confident that it is of a good standard. However, this does mean you should take everything it says at face value! Equally, if a source is ‘popular’ it doesn’t mean you can’t use it in your work, you might just want to think carefully about the purpose you are using it for.

A blog post written by a newspaper columnist, for instance, might provide useful evidence for one side of the debate around a particular topic or event. If you are aware of specific limitations in the sources you are using then make that explicit in your analysis so the marker knows that you recognise these limitations.

For example, when including the blog written by a newspaper columnist you could use the source to explore bias and unpack how the author came to hold that point of view.

Popular sources:

  • Are often based on opinion rather than evidence.
  • Are usually written in a conversational tone.
  • Are often do not refer to other sources.
  • Are often cover broad issues.

Scholarly sources:

  • Are arguments based upon evidence.
  • Use an academic style and follow conventions.
  • Use other sources — which are referenced.
  • Provide in-depth analysis of the topic.

The distinction between popular and scholarly sources of information is not absolute — some sources are more popular, some are more scholarly and some sources contain characteristics from both.

The above image is available in a screen-readable version here:


Referencing is really important in your academic work. It is a way of acknowledging the sources and authors you have used in your own work. When you reference consistently it becomes clear which ideas are your own and which have come from the sources you have used.

For your audit you will be using the Vancouver style and you can find guidance on this on the Referencing Guide.

Annotated bibliographies

One way to capture your thoughts and words that evaluate a source effectively is by creating an annotated bibliography of everything you have read.

An annotated bibliography keeps all of the important reference data that you need and also your short summary evaluation of each information source.

The advantages to doing this are

  • You keep a record of the material that you read across the depth and breadth of your course.
  • It is easy for you to locate items that you have read and have informed your opinions and ideas.
  • It will help to informs potential future research/project areas of interest.

Below are two examples of annotations that capture the three perspectives we have outlined:

Annotation example 1:

“Provides a discipline specific view of students transitioning to a nursing degree and the feelings that students have experienced. The literature review is thorough. The authors used a thematic analysis qualitative data to build a clear view of the student’s experiences. This is relevant to use with students as it shares the experiences of students at Manchester but this could limit its reliability in terms of generalising and it was funded by a grant from the University of Manchester so may not be fully objective.”

Reference: Pryjmachuk, S., McWilliams, C., Hannity, B., Ellis, J., & Griffiths, J. (2019). Transitioning to university as a nursing student: Thematic analysis of written reflections. Nurse Education Today, 74, 54–60.

Annotation example 2:

“The paper is 12 years old now and while this could compromise its reliability it forms part of a body of work that captures and describes the identities of ‘professional’ staff and not academics that work in higher education and span a range of different professions that work across boundaries. There is a sense that there is very little bias in the research and the body of work. Relevant in terms of the different areas that HE staff circulate the study is explicit that it omits information professionals and library staff.”

Reference: Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 377–396

If you use reference management software such as EndNote or Mendeley you can easily keep track of your reading an annotations in the notes feature which keeps everything together in your reference library. Take a look at this post which explains how to do this in Mendeley.

[Embed of Start to finish: Referencing]

Further support

The Library and the My Learning Essentials Team are here for you, so get in touch with us using any of the following methods.

  • Email us
  • Use the ‘Ask a question’ tab at the right side of the page on any Subject Guide.
  • Use Library Chat by going to the Library Website or MyManchester (log in required).

[Embedded link to feedback survey for students]



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