Locating Health Research: Limiting to Research Method

This guide will help you find health research that uses a particular methodology that you are interested in, such as reviews, qualitative research articles, and so on.  It assumes you have basic knowledge of how to search databases using keywords and subject headings.

Some Background Information

Limiting a search by research method can be tricky. For example, let’s assume we want to limit our search to qualitative research articles. We may encounter any of these issues:

1) In an attempt to limit our search we may end up weeding out mixed method studies that involve both qualitative and quantitative methods.

2) Not all qualitative studies in PubMed have the “Qualitative Studies” MeSH term associated with them, and the same goes for other databases and their corresponding subject headings related to qualitative studies.

3) Some qualitative studies do not describe the methods of the study in a structured abstract format, making it difficult to quickly determine if their study fits into your inclusion criteria.

Nonetheless, one or all of the following strategies may prove helpful to us:

Four Strategies

1) Add keywords related to your research methodology into your search strategy.

Example 1: If we’re looking for qualitative research on poverty areas and nutrition, we would enter the following into the search bar of our search engine or database of choice:

poverty areas AND nutrition AND qualitative research

Remember, be creative with your keywords. Try entering synonyms or related words related to your search strategy.  Example 2:

poverty areas AND nutrition AND (qualitative research OR interviews OR ethnography)

2) Add a MeSH term or subject heading related to your research methodology into your search strategy.

You may have to use the MeSH database or the subject thesaurus to find out what the relevant subject heading would be.  Continuing with our example, we might want to use the “Qualitative Research” MeSH term in PubMed. Example 3:

poverty areas AND nutrition AND “Qualitative Research”[Mesh]

Just like with your keywords, you may find alternate MeSH terms that would be useful that aren’t as obvious.  Example 4:

poverty areas AND nutrition AND “Focus Groups”[Mesh]

3) Use limits.

In PubMed, look for the article type limits in the left sidebar after you perform a search.



In CINAHL and PsychInfo, all the limits should be available below your search box if you are at the advanced search screen.


Take a look at the publication type limit in CINAHL..

cinahl limit

..and the methodology type in PsycINFO.


4) Use filters or clinical queries.

Filters and clinical queries are special pregenerated search strategies that you can tack onto your search.  They are available in CINAHL and PubMed.  In CINAHL, simply select the filter you want to use from the “Limit Your Results” screen.


To see how to use clinical queries and filters in PubMed, watch this short video.

More help

Looking for qualitative research? For more ideas of keywords or subject terms that you can use in PubMed, CINAHL, and PsychINFO, see this excellent guide from the Health Sciences Library at UW.