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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Research Methods

An overview of complementary and integrative medicine including history, branches of practice, professionals, and research methods.

Choosing a Topic

Forming and answering questions is a great way to determine a topic, narrow your search, and produce better results. This can come in the form of Who, What, When, Where, or How background questions. Below are a few examples related to Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

  • Who would benefit from using probiotics? 
  • What is the relationship between acupuncture and quitting smoking?
  • How would relaxation techniques be used for anxiety? 

Want to narrow your topic even further? Using the PICO method is a great way to create a research question. This video created by Gumberg Library will guide you through the steps. 

Search Operators

Wondering when and what search operators to use? Here are some basic guidelines:


AND - Using AND will connect two different topics. Say you wanted to find articles about using probiotics for digestive issues. Using the AND operator between terms will help find resources where these two topics intersect.

OR - Using OR can help to broaden a search especially if two terms are interchangeable, such as dietary supplement and food supplement. Authors and journals may decide to use one term instead of another so only searching with one can limit your results. 


Gumberg Library has produced a video to help you in your use of search operators. Watch it here!

Searching in Different Databases

Have you chosen a topic? Great, time to search! The method will be similar moving between databases, but a few key differences exist between platforms. This example will assume you are searching for resources relating to using yoga to help relieve back pain. The operator AND will be used in each case to find where these topics intersect. 


Enter each term in separate search fields. 


The search will be entered in one search bar. Use an all upper case AND to separate the search terms. 


The search will be entered in one search bar. Put any terms that are two words in quotation marks to ensure it is searched as one phrase.

Gumberg Library: 

The Quick Search feature is located in the center of the screen on the Gumberg Library homepage. This will allow you to find a variety of resources including books, e-books, journals, and audiovisual materials.

Looking for Help or More Information?

Controlled Vocabulary

Using a controlled vocabulary in databases allows you to search more effectively for resources relevant to your topic. This is especially important in Complementary and Alternative Medicines where there are many interchangeable or related terms. Herbs in particular can be referred to by different terms, such as a common name or scientific name. (Think St. John's Wort versus Hypericum).

Here are two ways to start your search with controlled vocabularies: 

MeSH terms in PubMed:

The largest "umbrella" term to use in PubMed is Complementary Therapies. 

Learn More About MeSH

PubMed Online Training Tutorials

Subject Headings in CINAHL: 

The largest "umbrella" term to use in CINAHL is Alternative Therapies. 

Learn More About CINAHL Subject Headings