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Information skills: what you need to know

Please be aware this page is currently being updated. 06/2018.
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As NHS staff you need to be able to find and use the best quality resources and research. In many cases, patient care and safety will depend on it. InfoSkills as a whole gives a very clear picture of what resources are available to you. It will also help equip you with the ability to find, select, evaluate, use and communicate the information you find.


1. What are Information Skills?

Information skills header image: people discussing research over laptops

Information skills, or information literacy as it is sometimes called, means having the ability to "know when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.” (CILIP, 2004)

As a health professional, you will be required to have an understanding of:

The Open University's Being Digital skills page

Being digital is a collection of short, easy to follow activities. They cover the skills we all need to be effective online, whether it’s searching efficiently, critically evaluating information, communicating and sharing online, or selecting the right online tool for your needs.


2. Finding and borrowing books

a picture of a bookshelves

The best way to find books is to use our library catalogue, ELMS, which has details of our stock and that of 25 other health libraries in the region. You need to be a library member to take books out. When you have your library ID (the number on the back of your membership card) and your PIN, you can log in to reserve, request and renew items.

ELMS - Library Catalogue

Borrowing books


3. NHS Athens

NHS Open Athens logo

The only way you can access all the electronic resources available to NHS staff, such as e-books, e-journals and the major healthcare databases such as CINAHL and MEDLINE is by logging into them with an NHS OpenAthens user name and password.

NHS Athens Online Registration Form

More information on NHS OpenAthens


4. How do I search for journal articles?

a shelf of journals

If you are studying, undertaking CPD or searching for evidence to back up good practice, searching for articles will be an essential skill.

This section provides tools to enable you to search for articles using the databases and resources provided by the NHS.

You will need an NHS Athens account which will enable you to access all the NHS online journals and databases. You can register for an account in the previous section.

An introduction to scholarly articles and healthcare databases

This is a basic introduction enabling you to understand what scholarly articles are and how to recognise them, why you need to use them, and where to find them. It also gives you information about the healthcare databases provided by the NHS including the subjects they each cover.


Search tips for using the NHS Healthcare Databases (NICE Evidence)

A really useful series of videos created by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) about how to search NHS databses for aritcles. If you don't use any of the other resources in this section at least use this one!

Feauring: How to carry out a basic search, using the thesaurus, applying limits, rerunning searches, saving search results and creating alerts.

Literature searching using NHS databases

A short leaflet we have produced that you can print out giving you the key steps to searching for articles using NICE Evidence.

Health Education England Literature Searching online course

This online course teaches you the key concepts and skills for literature searching. It includes 6 modules:


5. Using PICO & developing a search strategy


Developing a search strategy

Searching for articles can be time consuming. It's always best to think about your search first and plan how you're going to go about it. This wil save you time in the long run and help make your search more focussed and efficient. Watch this short video from Edghill University to find out how


6. Boolean

Venn diagram example - overlapping circles

You may have heard of boolean searching before - using the terms AND to narrow your search results and OR to expand your results. This video gives you information on how to use boolean effectively to find the most relevent results.

Using Boolean (AND/OR)

7. How do I evaluate information?

image of check boses: good or bad?

"We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge." - John Naisbitt

Information is everywhere. But how do we know what is worth knowing? Not everything that we find is worth reading, including much of what is available on the internet. We need to be able to think critically and use judgment in deciding what is useful, relevant and valuable, especially when it involves patient care. The resources in this section can help you develop thinking strategies for evaluating information, wherever it comes from.

Evaluating Information

A short presentation from Leeds University about evaluating information and thinking critically.

Bill learns what to trust.

A very short, light hearted video from the Open University

Health on the Net Foundation URL

"The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) promotes and guides the deployment of useful and reliable online health information, and its appropriate and efficient use. Created in 1995, HON is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, accredited to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations."

HON includes the HONcode, standards for health information on the internet, HONsearch, a specialized medical search engine and many more resources. Definitely worth a look.


8. Google and Wikipedia

As NHS staff you need to be able to find and use the best quality, authoritative, resources and evidence. In many cases, patient care and safety will depend on it. Only about 30/40% of quality healthcare information is freely available. The best information can be found in our healthcare databases. If you REALLY want to use Google, it is recommended that you use Google Scholar, which focussed on academic content.

Google Scholar

This video from La Trobe University very clearly illustrates the pitfalls of relying on Google.

Why can't I just Google?

Wikipedia, although it has it's place in finding information, can't be viewed as a totally reliable source as anyone can edit any item. Therefore it's possible that someone with no medical knowledge has altered that particular subject that you want to look at. I'm sure you can see the potential danger if you were to use that information only when caring for your patient!

BMJ Editorial: Citing Wikipedia-Don't do it!

This British Medical Journal Editorial from March 2014, clearly outlines the reasons why Wikipedia shouldn't be cited in health science articles.It refers to a recent study which higlights the problem.


9. What is the Cochrane Library?

A short overview of the Cochrane Library

The Cochrane Library Booklet

A detailed step by step guide which explains what the Cochrane Library is, what it contains and how to search it successfully.

The Cochrane Library

A quick and clear guide to conducting an effective search in The Cochrane Library from Edgehill University.

10. Referencing

When you are writing a piece of work and include another person’s words or ideas you must reference them. This means that you must include information about all the sources consulted, from books to websites, in your work. This should be in the body of your work (in-text citations) and as a reference list or bibliography at the end. Another way to understand referencing is to think of an analogy - when you buy designer clothes there is usually a label attached to say who made them; this brand identity is like an author of a book.

Plagiarism is when you don’t do this, either deliberately or inadvertently. If you don’t reference you are effectively presenting someone else’s ideas as your own and this is cheating. Plagiarism is treated very seriously and usually results in disciplinary action.

There are lots of different referencing styles - and different versions of each style. If you have been told to use "Harvard", for example, make sure you find guidance on the exact version of Harvard your university or publisher requires. If you follow the wrong guidance you will lose marks for your assignment, or delay the publication of your paper.

Anglia Ruskin's Harvard Referencing guide

APA Style

open access logo

Knowing what articles you have access to and which you don't can be complicated. As a member of NHS staff you can use your NHS Athens login to get a lot of content - but not everything! That's where Open Access tries to help. It's a movement across academia to make more content freely available. If you see the orange logo above, or the words "open access" that means you can get it for free and without needing to login!

Open Access Explained! YouTube video by PHD Comics

12. Institutional repositories

green open access logo

Another way to acesss content via open access is to use institutional repositories. These are archives of all the research a university or research centre produces. If you're desperate and need a paper quick, it could be worth checking. You may not always get the final version of a paper, so be sure to check the details before you read - especially if you're applying it to a clinical situtation.

Some individual examples include:

Oxford University Research Archive

University of Cambridge Repository

UCL Discovery

LSHTM Research Online

To find more please visit Directory of Open Access Repositories

You can also try CORE, which aggregates the data from lots of repositories.