This guide focuses on Open Access (OA) resources that anyone can find and use online. Here you can find information on health and technological sciences and links to various OA materials (books, articles, reports, evidence based practice materials, etc.).
Open Access is based on the idea that all (publicly funded) scientific research should be openly available to everyone interested. Much of scientific research is still published in subscription-based or paywalled publications, but Open Access publishing is getting more popular, because it offers everyone the possibility to access research findings. Open Access has also gained popularity among publishers and journal providers as they have started offering their own OA channels and giving the authors the possibility to publish Open Access.
There is a lot of misinformation being spread through various channels, such as tabloids, clickbait articles, and social media that have a tendency to get things wrong or exaggerate often inconsequential details. Therefore, the aim of these sources should always be taken into consideration and relying on credible sources is strongly recommended. In this guide, we will introduce you to several reliable resources that you can access anywhere in the world, and the only thing you will need is an internet connection.
Image credit: International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), "How to spot fake news - COVID-19 edition"*.
*Click the image to view a larger version.
Latest updates to the guide (2022):
The purpose of this guide is to introduce different ways to find Open Access. In this section is presented just a few examples of different search engines, databases and repositories to give just a presentation of where you can start your information seeking. Find out more in the following sections.
From Open Access search engines you can find Google Scholar which is a free web search engine for scientific publications and PubMed which comprises millions of citations for health and medical sciences literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Subjects in PubMed include nursing, medicine, health sciences and related disciplines. Included under Open Access search engines are also Get the Research, an academic search engine for people outside academia and OpenMD, for searching documents from medical organisations, journals, and databases.
From Open Access repositories you can find for example ArXiv, which covers areas like physics, mathematics, and computer science, and Zenodo, which is a general-purpose Open Access repository that contains various preprints.
From Publishers OA you cand find Collections of Open Access journals. The list contains for example PLOS, which publishes influential Open Access journals across all areas of science and medicine.
Under Open Access directories and other resources you can find other portals to find Open Access, like WHO (World Health Organization's official website) and Current Care Guidelines, evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for Finland.
Usually, a simple Google search is not the best way to search in academic databases, because the technology behind the database search systems is a lot simpler. For instance, most of the databases do not have artificial intelligence or other automated suggestion/interpretation tools included in their search. This means you will have to make the effort yourself to make sure you have all the right search words and you have used the search techniques correctly in your search to find what you are looking for.
The tabs above will guide you through the creation of a search string that you can use in academic databases.
If your topic is "treatments for young people's migraines", your main concepts could be: treatment, young people, migraine. However, these might not be all of the words researchers use in their articles on the topic.
To broaden your search, you could use a thesaurus, reference books or text books to see what other synonyms or similar words are used to describe the topic. For example, synonyms for young people could be: youth, adolescents or teenagers. Be wary of the more general words like 'treatment', because it might not catch all of the different types of migraine treatments, also use more specific search words.
Now you have at least eight search words for your topic:
treatment, medication, inhibitors, migraine, young people, youth, adolescents, teenagers.
Video by Jennifer Poggiali at Lehman Library: Searching Databases with Keywords
In Google, you would just type all the search words together in the search box and hope for the best. Depending on your search history, this would probably work pretty well, but in academic databases you will need to use specific search tools to guide the search.
Boolean operators AND and OR are used to combine the search words so that the search system knows what words should appear in all of the search results and which ones are alternative words. Boolean operators are always written in uppercase letters in the search.
Use AND to connect words that should appear in all of the search results, and OR to connect words that are synonyms or similar terms, so that any of them will appear in the search results. If you use both operators, use parentheses around the words connected with OR operators to make sure the search logic works properly.
Adding these tools to the search words for the example topic would create a search string like this:
(treatment OR medication OR inhibitors) AND migraine AND (young people OR youth OR adolescents OR teenagers)
NOTE: There is one more Boolean operator, which should be used very sparingly, because it can inadvertently narrow the search too much. This operator is the NOT operator that you can use if you think some words should not appear in the search results.
Video by McMaster Libraries: How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Operators (AND OR NOT)
Use quotation marks when you want two or more words to appear as an exact phrase in a particular order and without any words between them, for example "young people".
Truncating, or shortening words with an asterisk * is used to find different endings of words. It is usually added after the last common letter of variations. For example, the search term teen* will search for teen, teens, teenager, teenagers.
With all of the search tools in place, the final search string for the example topic would be:
(treatment* OR medication* OR inhibitor*) AND migraine* AND ("young people*" OR youth* OR adolescent* OR teen*)
Video from McMaster Libraries: How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Modifiers "", *, ( )