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AHPH 542: Comprehensive Weight Management

Choosing a Research Topic

It can be tricky to identify a research topic and narrow your topic into a specific research question. There are a few ways to come up with a topic:

  • Consider topics that really interest you. You'll always be more invested when you actually care or have a connection to the topic you're researching.
  • Look towards recent news articles or research articles (found in recently published journals).
  • Consider topics covered in your textbooks and dig in further.
  • Are there any controversial topics that you feel you can add to?

Once you have identified a few topics you may be interested in, test them by searching in the databases (covered within this guide). Is there a lot of research out there on your topic? Consider narrowing it to a different focus or try another topic. Is there absolutely nothing available on your topic? Considering broadening your topic or changing directions. To broaden or narrow your topic, answer some of the basic questions:

  1. WHO?
  2. WHAT?
  3. WHERE?
  4. WHEN?
  5. WHY?
  6. HOW?

Creating keywords

Image result for running altitude


Once you've decided on your topic, you can start creating keywords by answering a few basic questions and coming up with different ways to describe your topic. The sample topic here concerns exercise and higher altitudes. Potential questions and keywords that can be used include:

  • What is it I'm researching? What are the main concepts?
  • ​​​What effect do I think altitude has on exercising?
  • Who (what population) do I want to focus on for my research?
    • MEN?
    • WOMEN?
  • What are some synonyms or related terms that I could use in place of my initial keywords?

Advanced Search Strategies

When searching in databases, there are advanced search strategies that can help you narrow or broaden your search results. You may know the basics, like narrowing by publish date or language, but below are further strategies that will help you get the best possible search results.

Advanced search strategies can be crafted from the developed keywords to target the most pertinent research within the given databases. Several techniques, including boolean operators and truncation, can help develop your advanced search strategies.

At the graduate level, pay particular attention to Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), described below.

Advanced Search Strategies


These terms (AND, OR, NOT) can help you broaden or narrow the results you receive when searching within the databases.

  • AND narrows your search, as it tells the database that you only want results that contain ALL of the search terms
  • OR expands your search, as it tells the database that you want all the articles that contain EITHER of the terms
  • NOT excludes items from your search, as it tells the database that you do not want any articles that contain a certain term

For more information on these strategies, visit this guide from the Priddy Library.


Using the * (asterisk symbol), truncation uses the root of a word to find results that contain any variation of the root.

  • Example: pharm* will find pharmacology, pharmacy, pharmaceutical, etc.
  • Example: injur* will find injury, injuries, etc.

For more information on these strategies, visit this guide from the Priddy Library.

Unlike keywords, Subject Headings are the major content in the article; they're also called "controlled vocabulary." A search on the topic altitude training as a keyword may retrieve some articles with 'altitude,' some with 'training' and some with the phrase 'altitude training.' But if the subject heading is 'altitude training' then the article is focused on that topic. Your search may be much broader retrieving more articles with keywords, but in searching with subject headings, you are likely to get fewer but more precise results. Subject headings are also referred to as 'descriptors' in some databases.

More specifically, PubMed and MEDLINE utilize Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), a controlled vocabulary created by the National Library of Medicine.


Some databases have a thesaurus - a powerful collection of subject headings or standardized terms created by the indexers. Controlled vocabulary provides more effective searching capability in databases where a thesaurus is available. For example you may think of the word 'substance abuse,' but the database thesaurus indexes it as 'drug abuse.'

Use the thesaurus to find keywords and phrases and apply these search terms in the subject field (SU or DE).  The results may be better for searches of thesaurus terms in the subject field than for a simple keyword search of the title or abstract of an article.

Make sure to consult the following thesauri when searching these databases:

MEDLINE- MeSH terms (Medical Subject Heading)

CINAHL - subject headings

PsycINFO - thesaurus from APA