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You are here: Home About EthnoMed Contributor's Guide Finding Background Information for EthnoMed Articles

Finding Background Information for EthnoMed Articles

Author(s): ehh

The Process

Decide on parameters of topic and what type of information is needed

Set up a project calendar Assignment Calculator.  (

Identify existing information that might help you:

            What type of information are you searching for?

                        Research technique

                        Population being studied

                        Health topic: definition, general information, epidemiology

                        Similar studies, different populations

            How / where will you narrow / broaden your search if necessary?

            Will this information be in books, journals, newspapers, films, etc.?

            Which catalogs or databases will you use?

            What will be your search vocabulary?

Document what and how you search for information

Store the references you identify

Locate the materials

Finding Background Information

In most cases there will not be a lot of background information on your health topic specific to the cultural group you will be writing about, so you will need to think broadly and creatively in order to find relevant information. 

Students undertaking Pathways Projects represent very diverse groups in terms of background, professional school and level of education.  This document points to and briefly discusses some of the most useful sources and suggests some of the search strategies to use.  It begins with information for those with little literature search experience and proceeds to hints for the savvy searcher.  If you need more detailed help,  Amy Harper,, a Health Sciences Librarian or other University of Washington Librarians should be consulted. 

General Information about Research and Searching for Bibliographic Information

Research 101 ( reviews information sources and research skills using an interactive tutorial.   While it focuses on teaching undergraduates, the structure allows all users to browse the content and focus on specific topics.

Finding Health Information Online (

focuses more specifically on the needs of health sciences students and assumes that the user has a general understanding of the research process.

RefWorks (

is a Web based product that allows you to save and share references.  Yetta Levine will help you if you have problems using this software.

Searching Databases: search terms

You can search for information using controlled vocabulary (thesaurus terms or subject headings) or keywords.  For example, PubMed, the most used medical database, uses MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), a highly structured thesaurus.  Using thesaurus terms allows you to look for the main content of articles regardless of the terms or spelling used by the author. However, you can also search using keywords to get at secondary concepts or concepts not captured well by thesaurus terms.

Unfortunately, every database uses a different thesaurus, so it is impossible to provide a search strategy to use across all databases.  However, for pathways topics some examples of how to think of terms to use are as follows:

   Specific Ethnic Groups

          Cambodians: Cambodia, Cambodians, Khmer (language, ethic group),


          Somali: Somali, Somalia, Somalians, Muslim, Islam

   Refugees and Immigrants (General)

          Ethnic Groups, Ethnology

          Immigrant, Immigrants, Immigration

          Refugee, Refugees


          Mental Health, Mental Disorders

          PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Anxiety, Night Terrors

 Looking for Specific Cultural and Health Related Information

 Cultural: case example, information about Cambodians

You can see a list of some of the sources on the Anthropology subject page of the University of Washington Libraries (

Some of the places to begin are:

You can enter Cambodia* as a word in the title to get a few references for very broad cultural background.  You can narrow your search by combining keywords such as Cambodia* AND (health OR disease OR culture OR cultural) or you can search by very specific subject headings, for example: the Mesh (medical subject heading) “Refugees -- Cambodia” or “Cambodia – ethnology” or the LC (Library of Congress) “Cambodian Americans”.

You might also want to search the term Khmer.

When you find a few books you like, look at the subject headings assigned to them. The subject heading are hyperlinked so that you may find more of the same.

You can find out more details about the use of the catalog by clicking on the Help button.  (

The Library Catalogs page within HealthLinks ( ), lists several other sources including WorldCat Local (  Clicking on the ? tells you that journal articles as well as materials at other libraries in the region to which you have easy access are included in the catalog.  Because it is so inclusive you will probably want to use several search terms, for example “Cambodia* health.”  This will retrieve almost 1000 articles, but a link on the left hand side of the screen will allow you to select a subset of references.  You can find more details by going to About WorldCat (

  • The Anthropology page lists several other unique resources, eHRAF which does not have information for this particular group and the Web of Science (WOS) which includes Social Science Citation Index (see below).  I often also try ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (
  • JSTOR ( is a subject searchable index of scholarly journals online, some of which date back to the 1800'sfull text journals.  Currently includes 42 anthropology journals. 
  • Searching the Web.  Many organizations are now creating materials for the Web which may not be indexed by the commercial services, so you may want to use search engines, such as Google.  However, much of want you find may not be considered reliable information so be sure that you carefully evaluate each article.

Ethnic Data

   Country of Origin & General

CIA World Factbook

World Refugee Survey

Migration Policy Institute draws together the statistical information for both the US and world.


This slide presentation explains how data has been collected and stored.

The US Census Bureau provides most of the critical demographic data although searching for ethnic data remains a challenge as the slide presentation listed above explains.



King Co.

Washington State


Basic information about health topics can be found using the sources referred to on the HealthLinks Care Provider page (

This ranges from syntheses of information (e.g. UpToDate) to collections of electronic books, journals and patient education materials (e.g. MD Consult) to individual electronic books (e.g. Harrison’s Textbook of Internal Medicine).

Health and cultural groups

There may be books or dissertations that cover your topic, such as Lipson, Culture & Clinical Care, 2005.  However, this information may be very brief or dated.  You will usually need to search for journal articles using a variety of databases, each of which will have different scope, years of coverage, organization and vocabulary.  Except for WOS each of those listed below may be searched using either free text (keywords) or controlled vocabulary (thesaurus terms).   Some of those which others have found most useful with links to searching help are listed below.  You may get to the actual database via the HealthLinks Database Resources page at

PubMed (  Major medical database covering thousands of titles for more that 50 years.  To search with U Wa holdings linked enter the database via  The controlled vocabulary is called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings).  Use of this feature is not intuitive, but there are several tutorials within PubMed as well as those created by the U Wa Librarians.

CINAHL ( Major nursing and allied health database covering primarily journals.

PsycINFO (  Database covering psychology that includes journals, books and dissertations.

WOS includes Social Sciences Index.

Very unique database in that it allows you to track publications via other publications that cite references of interest and allows you to view the references that authors have cites. 

Research Methodology

Use the Online Catalog

Finding Measurement Tools:

Interpretative Methods in Nursing Research (Qualitative Research):