Acupuncture case study

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go to: Grey literature (Part I overview)

Part II - Acupuncture in managing drug & alcohol dependence

  • A priori question:
"How effective is acupuncture in managing drug and alcohol dependence?"

The goal of this study is to find as many randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as possible and to perform a meta-analysis on the data.

Start with the major databases

  • MEDLINE / PubMed, an international biomedical database indexing ~5600 journals back to 1948
  • Commercial vendors include Dialog, EBSCO, OVID, to name a few
  • PubMed is the free interface that links to PubMedCentral Canada and other NCBI databases
  • EMBASE international database of ~5400 biomedical journals with a focus on European pharmacy information back to 1974
  • CINAHL is a cumulated index to nursing and allied health
  • Cochrane Library systematic reviews and protocols
  • BIOSIS (Biological Abstracts), PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts
  • CAM on PubMed
  • Alt HealthWatch on EBSCO

Other finds

Early search tips

  • Start your research in mainstream databases; pull duplicates from databases as there is often overlap
  • Use citation tools to manage your references and eliminate duplication

Directories & Organizations

  • Contact relevant organizations to assess what resources exist (ie. special databases, library catalogues, etc). Some sites have resources which provide a starting point for your search. If you are unfamiliar with your topic and don't know what type of organizations exist, there are a number of print or online directories that will help to focus your search efforts, and guide you along the way.

For acupuncture, here are some examples relevant to the search

Searching specialized databases for GL

  • Organize keywords for your topic before your search; take a methodical approach and use keyword and wildcard combinations to trawl as much material as possible. Develop a structured, organized approach.
  • Most specialized databases will have different search interfaces and search functions but try to be systematic
  • Some possible keywords: acupuncture, meridian, acupressure, electroacupuncture, shiatsu, drug, polydrug, substance, alcohol, tranquilize, tranquilizer, narcotic, opiate, solvent, inhalant, street drug, prescri, non-prescri, nonprescri, abuse, use, usin*, misus*, utliz*, utilis*, depend, addict, illegal, illicit, habit, withdraw, behavio*, abstinen*, abstain*, abstention, rehab, intox*, detox, dual, diagnosis, disorder.


Searching Library Catalogues for GL

  • Library OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogues) in academic, specialized and public libraries are excellent sources of grey literature. Catalogues provide access to local and regional materials, and inform researchers that they exist. Library catalogues are fertile sources for bibliographic verification and resource discovery in grey literature searching. Many library catalogues index dissertations, government and technical reports, particularly if the authors are affiliated with the parent organization as scholars or researchers.

Here are a few examples for the acupuncture topic:

Personal communications (phone, email, fax, blogs, etc.)

  • Effective searching for grey literature combines targeted searching of key websites and general culls of the Web. Google, Google scholar, Yahoo and Windows Live or meta- & federated search tools like Dogpile are useful. Blogs help to identify experts and see what types of discussions are currently happening on the blogosphere. Phone, fax, e-mail is a further means of obtaining more information on your topic, though it is difficult to track and record personal communications. The key is not to rule anything out.

Searching in repositories (e-prints, registries, etc.)

Here are a few examples for the acupuncture topic:

  1. (Cornell University)
  2. Cog Prints
  3. Directory of Open Access Journals
  4. E-Print Network
  6. NCCAM Grantee Publications Database
  7. National Research Register
  8. NetPrints
  9. Scientific and Technical Information Network (STINET)

Try also: Evidence-Based Public Health: A Librarian Pathfinder

Hand-searching journals/ scanning reference lists (manually or online)

  • Targeted hand searching of relevant publications is a useful technique in locating grey literature. Hand searching supplements information that may not have been found through conventional retrieval methods. It is also an important way to find articles missed by databases or located in reference lists and bibliographies. Hand-searching is also a means to locate recent publications not indexed or cited by other researchers. In systematic reviews, hand searching can be conducted by the researcher or the information specialist. Check Cochrane's master hand- search list to ensure that the journal or conference is not already being searched by CENTRAL <>. Another effective way of scanning the literature is to identify academic experts and find his / her publication list or curriculum vitae (CV). This will likely reveal relevant items; academics are putting their CVs onto web sites which helps to disseminate their work at very little cost.

Internet / Google searches / Portals

Some relevant general search engines/vortals/ directories:

Health specific

Some search engines, vortals with health content

  • Google Scholar enables you to search for scholarly literature including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. GS is used to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.
  • MedlinePlus is the National Library of Medicine's consumer health website leading patients to information about diseases, drugs, clinical trials, definitions, health organizations and news for more than 900 health topics. Links to images, slideshows, videos and encyclopedia articles are included for common diseases, tests, symptoms, injuries and surgeries, and brand and generic drug information. Each topic has easy-to-read health literacy links, and pre-formatted "expert" searches for quick access to Pubmed.
  • is the US National Library of Medicine's freely web searchable MEDLINE database - the premier international index to biomedical research covering almost 5000 journals and indexing more than 15 million citations from 1949 to present. Key sections include: 1) PubMedCentral's free journal database; 2) genomic search tools; 3) more than 4300 fulltext e-journals; 4) MEDLINEplus and 5) NCBI's freeBookshelf.
  • Scirus is a science-specific search tool with results from over 450 million Web pages, including sites that other search engines don't index. In addition to science, technical and medical sites, Scirus indexes the following special sources:, Biomed Central, Caltech, Cogprints (via OAI), DiVa, Project Euclid, Crystallography Journals Online, LexisNexis, MIT OpenCourseWare, NASA technical reports, NDLTD, MEDLINE, PubMed Central, RePEc, ScienceDirect, Scitation, SIAM and T-Space.


go back to Grey literature Part I OR see Grey literature searching in medicine (bibliography)

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