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Medical Library Association Encyclopedic Guide to Searching and Finding Health Information on the Web

edited by P. F. Anderson and Nancy J. Allee

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Free Samples: How to Use The Guide

Table of Contents and Index | Sample Searches | Tips for Searching | How to Use Each Part | The CD-ROM

There are two basic ways (with thousands of variations) to search using the Medical Library Association Encyclopedic Guide.

How to Use the Table of Contents and Cumulative Index

The table of contents and the cumulative index provide two different tools for locating information contained in these three volumes.

The index provides a direct approach to specific medical terms, drugs, diagnoses, or treatments found in The MLA Encyclopedic Guide. Here you will find other terms to use on the Web, other index terms, and often cross-references to other relevant sections of the book. The table of contents in volume 1, Search Strategies/Quick Reference Guide , is a straightforward list of chapters on learning the best strategies for searching a health question on the Internet, and quick reference tools that will assist in making the search successful. Since skills build step-by-step, it is best to read the chapters in order, though often you may prefer to skip around so that you can focus on a specific topic.

The table of contents in volume 2, Diseases and Disorders/Mental Health and Mental Disorders, covers specific medical or mental conditions and topics. The table of contents for volume 3, Health and Wellness/Life Stages and Reproduction, offers more general topics and situations relating to these broad areas of interest. The table of contents for these two volumes covers the entire scope of the material included. Where a broad topic area is presented (e.g., cancer), care has been given to provide a more detailed listing of the content to enable the user to locate a specific topic of interest (e.g., gallbladder cancer). The individual topics are arranged alphabetically within the main groupings. Please note that sometimes a topic may appear in more than one location -- some mental conditions may have physical causes, and vise versa.

Sample Searches Using the Table of Contents

To search through volumes 2 and 3 using the table of contents, first pick the largest subject and then narrow the search. For example, a search for information about osteopororosis might be conducted as follows:
  1. Turn to volume 2, "Diseases and Disorders."
  2. Look up part XXIII, "Musculoskeletal Injuries and Disorders."
  3. Note that entry 219, page 124, is Osteoporosis, one of 19 different musculoskeletal injuries and disorders examined in "Special Topics and Procedures."
  4. Turn to page 124 to find a complete search for this particular topic featuring recommended search terms and important sites. Follow any cross-references to other pertinent sections of the Guide.
Note: There is a complete search strategy for "Musculoskeletal Injuries and Disorders" with special searching issues for this topic, a topic profile (including who, what, where, and when), and the abbreviations used in this section. This is followed by helpful information: publications on the Internet, hotlines, FAQs, medical specialties, professional organizations, patient support organizations and discussion groups, and "best one-stop shops."

A search for more general question about the health of older women might be conducted this way:

  1. Turn to volume 3, Life Stages/Reproduction.
  2. Look up part V, "Adults' Health Issues (Women)."
  3. Note that entry 55, page 144, is Osteoporosis.
  4. Turn to page 144 to see a complete search (by a different author) for Osteoporosis featuring recommended search terms and important sites. Again, follow cross-references to other pertinent sections of the Guide.

Note: There is a complete search strategy for "Adults' Health Issues (Women)" with special searching issues for this topic, including what to ask and where to start, additional search strategies, a topic profile (with who, what, where, and when) and the abbreviations used in this section. Following the 21 "Procedures and Special Topics" (subject-specific search strategies and recommended sites) is more helpful information about publications on the Internet, hotlines, FAQs, medical specialties, professional organizations, patient support organizations and discussion groups, and "best one-stop shops."

Tips for Searching and Finding Information

Volume 1 explains the thought processes and strategies used by searching experts in a way that will help readers learn to search the Web more effectively. Highlights of the strategy section include what the common questions are, how to ask good questions or searchable questions, how to tell if you have found good information, how to use information from the Web, and troubleshooting.

The "Quick Reference Guide" shows how to find common types of information, as well as how to find answers to those general questions patients most frequently ask. This is an excellent place to learn more about health care in general.

To use volume 1 to search a specific health topic, move from section to section; play with the examples and search terms given by replacing them with your own questions, terms, and concerns. At helpful Web sites, make a note of other terms used to describe the same idea, and use those in a new search. Go back and forth between the book and the Web browser, and keep making notes of the terms or concepts that seemed to work best with your topic. Don't stop there -- look through the final chapters of the "Quick Reference Guide" for ideas for different questions and ideas for other kinds of resources.

The various parts of volumes 2 and 3 demonstrate these ideas in practice, with many examples on different health topics. Please note that in these volumes, in addition to search strategies and recommended Web sites, each part contains valuable information, such as FAQs, hotlines, and professional and patient organizations. In addition, a companion Web site is available at

How to Use Each Part

In volumes 2 and 3, each part is uniform in the sense that it is built around the same basic structure. For example, each features:

Within the "Procedures and Special Topics" individually numbered topic entries appear. Depending on the health topic, they range from a few to many topics (arthritis has 4, cancer has 38). For example, the "Procedures and Special Topics" in the AIDS and HIV part has 13 specific entries:

  1. General
  2. AIDS-Related Dementia
  3. Clinical Trials
  4. Complications and Common Manifestations
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Finding a Doctor
  7. Finding Community
  8. Finding Funding Support
  9. Prevention
  10. Privacy
  11. Special Populations
  12. Therapies and Treatments
  13. Terminologies and Dictionaries

Each of these 13 individual entries features subject-specific information:

Using the Recommended Searches
To best make the most of the recommended searches, remember: To find the right information, you need the right words. To find the right words, you must be flexible, willing to play, learn, and change. For example, within each topic entry, topic authors explored what was available on the Internet much more broadly than the links that were selected. They also explored the range and variety of terminology or language used to describe some of the various significant concepts relating to that topic.

The "Recommended Search Terms" provide examples of useful terms and how to "play" with them. The sample searches try to avoid using special features unique to a specific search engine; instead, they feature examples that would work in most major search engines. Ideally, one could copy the recommended searches, exactly as they appear in the text, into the search box of any major search engine. The exception to this "straight copying" is if a strategy would be most effective if you supplied a more specific term from your own circumstances. For those cases, the authors have added instructions for customizing your search in square brackets like this:

If you see such a search string that includes square brackets, do not type it into the search box as shown, but provide the information that the text within the brackets requests.

Searching with the Plus and Minus
The plus and minus signs can use force a search engine to include, or exclude, a term. Some search engines only allow this from the advanced search page. In these cases, there will usually use a phrase such as "must include" or "must not include" with a search box where the term can be entered or selected. However, most search engines allow you to do this by placing a plus sign (+) or minus sign (-) in front of the word. Please note, there are no spaces between the plus or minus sign and the word.

The plus sign is most useful (1) when you would like to use phrase searching but are not certain of the best word order or (2) you are dissatisfied with your results after searching without phrase searching. The plus sign (+) adds focus to the search by telling the search engine that one of the words is more important than the others. With the breast cancer example, you might list the words breast cancer, but use the plus sign to say that cancer is very important to the results. This search would be shown in this book as follows.

Using the Important Sites
The important sites are the most reliable ones you can expect when you use a comprehensive search strategy. These comprise an authoritative list of superior sites and a springboard to your own discoveries.

A Note on URLs
Keep in mind that the main purpose of The MLA Encyclopedic Guide is to teach searching and finding information on the Internet, not to provide a list of Web sites. Although many of the "Important Sites" will remain stable, the nature of the Internet is constant growth and change. Even as the book went to press, documents were undoubtedly being moved, changed, or even deleted.

Suppose that under the "Important Sites" a specific URL does not work, or only the address of the organization home page is provided; how do you find the resource you are interested in? First, look at the name of the site carefully. In many cases, the name of the hosting organization (that is, the sponsor or publisher) is listed, followed by "the path" for locating the specific document or Web page. Each step of the path is separated by a colon (:), and these steps will help you locate the resource you are looking for.

Another way to locate a desired resource is to do a phrase search for the title of the resource. Also, adding the name of the author or publisher of the site or a shortened URL can be especially powerful. For example, suppose you have the following site name:

Here are some the different searches you can try:

Notice the strategy. The searches all include the main topic, "ovarian cancer," combined with the next step on the path ("detailed guide") or with a term or partial address leading directly to the specific page of the American Cancer Society. These same principles can be used to search for any resource with an incomplete URL.

Another way to do this is to type in the URL for the home page. Once there, follow these steps:

Try to enhance these ideas with those listed in section of the "404 Fun: Finding Missing Sites" in volume 1. Also try to find a similar or new page on the site that has the information you want. There is no guarantee that the page is still there. And above all, be playful, curious, and inventive; try to find information that will help you to make thoughtful decisions about your health search.

How to Use the CD-ROM

A companion CD-ROM containing an HTML version of the complete text of all three volumes and featuring live links to almost 11,000 "Important Sites" is available from the publisher. This will enable you to quickly link back and forth from Web site to text as well as search the entire text by keyword.

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