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Postgraduate Research in the Health Sciences Library Guide

Library guide for postgraduate students and researchers.

Journal databases are online indexes to the academic journals and generally speaking, these give superior results when searching for information.

They are more reliable in unlocking the contents of peer-reviewed journals and have more reliable links to full-text when compared with random  searching of the internet where much of what is found is irrelevant in content or inaccessible to full-text.

Databases vs internet

Designed so that students can search and retrieve information using different search options, such as limiting to particular authors or subjects.

Information overload!
Articles are paid by the library Searching is free via Google Scholar, however you will often need to pay for full access to articles, standards and building codes.
You are only searching for information within each database and there are many options to limit your search to exactly what you are looking for. You are searching billions of pages and it is not as easy to limit your results.
You can search specifically for case studies, industry journal articles, SWOT analyses, best practice sheets and standards. You will get a mixed result list and it can be hard to limit to a particular type of source

Choosing the appropriate database

While some databases are multi-disciplinary in the journals that they index, e.g. Academic Search Premier, many are focused on a particular subject area, e.g. Medline. It is important when searching for information to select the correct databases for your topic. You will find links to our databases on the library home page. When off-campus, remember to sign into the Off-campus Login on the Library Home Page. This is not necessary for Primo, which has its own sign in, nor is it necessary for PubMed or Cochrane Library which are free platforms.


The Medline database is the most comprehensive source of life sciences and biomedical bibliographic information. From the Health Sciences Library home page we link to two of the most popular platforms that access Medline, namely PubMed and Medline via EbscoHost. While the EbscoHost platform facilitates access to the full-text articles, PubMed, the free platform for Medline, has a very powerful search functionality and should not be overlooked when a comprehensive review of the medical literature is required.

For more information on PubMed see the following:

EBSCOhost and its databases

The EBSCOhost platform consists of a number of academic databases, which index journals in many disciplines. From a health sciences point of view, some of the most important are:

Academic Search Premier, Africa-Wide, Biological and Agricultural Index Plus, CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health), ERIC (indexes education journals), General Science, GreenFILE, Medline, PsycARTICLES (psychology), PsycINFO (psychology) and SocINDEX.

Clinical trials and Cochrane Library

When researching a topic in the context of evidence-based practice, the most important literature sources are systematic reviews and meta-analyses of primary studies such as clinical trials. While many clinical trials are indexed by Medline and Embase (see Scopus), another very important source of information on trials is the Cochrane Library which includes systematic reviews of trials, trials in progress and protocols for trials. Access to the Cochrane Library is free to residents of South Africa.

Scopus and EMBASE

Embase (Excerpta Medica) is an important complementary database to Medline particularly strong in the fields of pharmacology, psychiatry, biomedical engineering and forensic science. This is not available at UCT. However, the database Scopus, covers most of the journals in Embase but without the same search functionality of Embase. In addition to providing the contents of Medline and Embase, Scopus is also a citation index  (see below). To exclude Medline records from your search results, include the following in your search on the Advanced Search page:  AND NOT INDEX(medline). To retrieve a Saved Search, login and go to My Scopus.

Citation indexes

Citation indexes are an important means of developing one's search strategy by finding out who is citing whom. The list of references at the end of an article points to previous research while cited references indicate who is citing the article in hand pointing to possible later research.

Web of Science includes the following databases: Web of Science Core Collection, Biological Abstracts, KCI-Korean Journal Database, Medline, SciELO Citation Index and Zoological Record. The Web of Science Core Collection includes the Science Citation Index, the Social Sciences Citation Index and the Arts & Humanities Citation Index. The Web of Science Core Collection is also an important resource for determining an author's H-index as well as a journal's impact factor (the measure of the frequency with which the average article has been cited in a particular period). 

NB. The default option for searching is just the Core Collection that will be searched. Change the default to 'All databases' if you want to include all the databases in your search. Web of Science has the option to exclude Medline records (Refine results in left column by deselecting Medline database).

Scopus (see above) is a very comprehensive citation index.

Google Scholar (see below) also indicates the number of times an article or entry is cited in that database.

National Health Research Database (NHRD)

"a repository of health-related research which has been and is currently being conducted in South Africa. As such, it is a useful tool for monitoring and managing health research for both the National Health Research Committee, Provincial Health Research Committees and Research Ethics Committees accross South Africa"

Google Scholar

An academic search engine, Google Scholar is particularly useful if preferences are set to link to UCT's online collection. Google Scholar is a good source of ‘cited by’ references and provides links to related articles.

Find the link to Google Scholar under Databases by Platform on the home page.

Go to Settings, Library Links, and search for University of Cape Town. Tick the box for ViewIt @UCT and save. 

Preferences can also be set to export to EndNote and other reference managers. Choose the reference manager that you are using and save.

Google Scholar Search