Ask an Expert

One of the best things about the training sessions and webinars we deliver  is the questions we receive.

These questions have inspired some of your and our favourite content, so we wanted to make it even easier for you to ask us a question and to see what other people have been asking us. 

Do you have a question you would like answered?


Enter your question above and we will respond to you directly by email. If we think other people would find the question and answer useful, we may share it here and on our other channels, such as social media. This will not include any identifying information about you, of course.

Your questions answered

  • How to search effectively

Searching for scientific research can mean trawling through vast numbers of articles and other sources in order to locate the most relevant results. The best searches are ones that strike the right balance between being broad enough to ensure you don’t miss relevant research, but specific enough to avoid what is irrelevant. We have brought together a range of practical tips that you can use to ensure your search is as effective as possible.

What are Boolean operators?

The three main Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT. Each instructs a database how search terms need to be combined, and that lets us configure searches to find more precise and relevant results. View and download our tips for effective searching or learn more.

Is it possible to filter for human studies on FSTA?

Yes! The filter is specific to the platform you are searching FSTA on, so we have a selection of resources available based on the platform you use to access FSTA:



Web of Science

Why are patents important for research?

While most academic research in food and nutrition science is published in scholarly journals, research conducted in industry might be shared with the world only when its intellectual property can be protected, through patents. University researchers also sometimes patent methods and technologies. Patent documents are sometimes the only way for researchers to get access to this information. Learn more

How can I find the full text of food science and technology patents?

Once you have the title of a patent, you can usually find its full text if you type it, inside quotation marks, on the free websites Espacenet or Google Patents. Learn more about finding patents and getting their full text.

What is phrase searching?

Phrase searching means typing two or more words - words that, used together, capture a concept - inside quotation marks in a search. It can be very useful for narrowing a search if the phrase you are using is really a phrase, but if your words do not need to be a phrase you will miss relevant results. Learn more

You can also watch our on-demand webinars on how to use phrase and proximity searching on EBSCOhost, Ovid, or Web of Science.

What is adjacency searching?

The phrase adjacency searching is often used synonymously with proximity searching. This kind of search uses a proximity operator to stipulate that search terms be no more than a stated number of words from each other in a field, like the title or abstract, of a record. Learn more

You can also watch our on-demand webinars on how to use phrase and proximity searching on EBSCOhost, Ovid, or Web of Science.

What is proximity searching?

Proximity searching lets you determine how close one search term must be to another in order for the results to be useful for you. You do this by inserting a proximity operator between your search terms. Learn more about this kind of searching and how useful it can be here.

You can also watch our on-demand webinars on how to use phrase and proximity searching on EBSCOhost, Ovid, or Web of Science.

What is a proximity operator?

Proximity operators are what you type between your search terms to run a proximity search. Exactly what you type is platform dependent. What they all have in common, though, is that they let you include a number to indicate the maximum distance the search terms can be separated from each other. Find what a platform's operator is in its help section. Learn more about proximity operators and how to use them.

You can also watch our on-demand webinars on how to use phrase and proximity searching on EBSCOhost, Ovid, or Web of Science.

What are stopwords?

Stopwords are words that are not counted as words for a database’s search rules. They are usually common words like and, as, for, from, is, of, that, the, this, to, was, and were. Find out more

You can also watch our on-demand webinars on how to use phrase and proximity searching on EBSCOhost, Ovid, or Web of Science.

What is peer review?

A peer reviewed journal article has been read and approved for publication by experts in the field.

As a student researcher who is building knowledge but is not yet an expert, it gives you the reassurance that the article you are reading is based on solid research, though there still may be arguments over its conclusions, and it still needs to be critically appraised. The process works like this:

  • An author submits a paper to a journal
  • The journal sends it out to experts in the exact area of the paper's research to review
  • They provide comments to a senior editor to make a decision on whether to accept or reject the paper
  • The reviewers should comment on features such as the robustness of the methodology, and whether the research has been designed, conducted and analysed in a way which is coherent, valid and ethical

The most common forms of peer review involve keeping identities of reviewers and/or authors secret, at least until the peer review process is over. These are known as Single Blind (where the author does not know the names of the reviewers), and Double Blind (where all author information is removed from a paper, and neither reviewers or authors can be identified). Learn more about peer review from an author's perspective

How can I learn more about how to use FSTA?

We have a range of resources available, such as downloadable guides, videos and more, depending on the platform you use to access FSTA. Take a look at our training hubs for EBSCOhost, Ovid and Web of Science.

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  • Finding credible information online

When you need to answer a question, it helps to imagine what kind of source is likely to give you a good (accurate) answer, and where you can find that kind of source. In this section of Ask an Expert, we list factual questions people have submitted to us, and give tips on what to think about in searching for the answers. It’s all about successfully navigating today’s vast and complicated information landscape.

How can I find an answer to a question like 'Is milk healthy?'

Here, we will cover some of the things to consider when seeking an answer to a question like this.

1. Will this question be answerable?

“Is milk healthy?” is a broad question. That breadth makes it hard to find a definite answer. Healthy for who? Kids? Post-menopausal women? Lactose intolerant people? How much milk are we talking about? A little or a lot? And what kind? Skim? Full fat? Organic? By breaking down the question, we are starting to think about the variable controls that might be put on the experiments that could answer it.

2. What evidence might answer the question?

If we google “is milk healthy” we’ll get answers, but are the answers on websites accurate? What’s their evidence?  

A better approach for finding an answer is to look for scientific literature investigating our question. But with such a broad question, the scientific literature is going to be overwhelming. How will we know which study to choose?

A solution to this problem is to search specifically for systematic reviews. Systematic reviews are scientific studies that locate all the published research that has been done on a particular question, as well as, sometimes, research that has been conducted but not published. The systematic review authors synthesize the data from the individual studies to see what overall conclusion can be drawn about their question. In a way, it’s as though they are pulling all the little—and sometimes not so little—studies together into a giant study for us.

3. How and where should you search for the evidence?

Where you search will depend on what resources you have available to you—you’ll have more options if you are affiliated with a university than if you are not. Regardless, you’ll want to use a reputable subject appropriate database that indexes research articles. Why? A database like FSTA ensures that a first level of quality screening has been done for you—the articles you’ll find should be from a legitimate, peer reviewed journals, having gone through the review steps required for publication.

A quick, but not comprehensive, way to search for systematic reviews is to type the topic you are interested in (in this case milk and health) and then the phrase “systematic review.”

When we search for these systematic reviews, most, as expected, concentrate on specific health issues like milk and heart conditions, or milk and different cancers, or milk and bone health.

But in this case, there is also a recent umbrella review of systematic reviews looking at milk and a whole series of medical conditions. An umbrella review pulls many different reviews together into a single review, though it doesn’t synthesize the evidence the way a systematic review does. In this umbrella review, the researchers pulled together systematic reviews each looking at milk and a separate health problem to try to answer the broad question “is milk healthy?”

The authors of Milk consumption and multiple health outcomes: umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses in humans found that, “Milk consumption was more often related to benefits than harm to a sequence of health-related outcomes. Dose–response analyses indicated that an increment of 200 ml (approximately 1 cup) milk intake per day was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, colorectal cancer, metabolic syndrome, obesity and osteoporosis. Beneficial associations were also found for type 2 diabetes mellitus and Alzheimer’s disease.”

But at the same time, the authors noted that “milk intake might be associated with higher risk of prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, acne and Fe-deficiency anaemia in infancy.” They also point out that many people are allergic to milk or are lactose intolerant.

Their conclusion overall was that “milk consumption does more good than harm for human health.”  

4. How to judge the quality of evidence you find?

Once you find a review answering your question, it’s important to consider its potential shortcomings. Unfortunately, even with peer review, some articles calling themselves systematic reviews don’t adhere to the standards and steps needed to make their conclusions entirely trustworthy. Bias can be introduced into other kinds of studies, too. A critical appraisal checklist can guide you through the questions you should ask to assess a research article’s quality.

You should also pay attention to the limitations that the authors themselves point out. In our milk and health article, the authors state that “more well-designed randomized controlled trials are warranted.” This tells us that some of the systematic reviews they gathered in their review had based conclusions on studies that aren’t the very best kind for coming up with definitive answers on health questions. When more studies are done in the future, the scientific consensus on milk’s health benefits might shift.  

Back to the question

Finally, it’s worth noting that the umbrella review about milk consumption and health outcomes does not address the impact milk production has on climate change, and the implications climate change has for global human health. There is scientific literature looking at that, too. It’s always worth considering the different ways you can frame your question—changing the frame might change the answer.

How can I find the significant figures of a summation equation?

To find a good answer to this question, we will want to think about three things:

  1. What kind of information will answer this question?
  2. Where can this kind of information be found?
  3. How to judge the quality of the information source to trust the answer is right?

1. What kind of information will answer this question?

This question is asking about how to perform an established mathematical process. It is not the kind of information that would be found in research articles. Instead, it would be found in teaching materials. A clear and accurate answer could come from a textbook or from another teaching resource.

2. Where can I find this kind of information?

If you have an appropriate textbook, check its table of contents at the front or index at the back to find where in the book you’ll find what you need. Alternatively, lots of high-quality teaching materials, including videos, are freely available online. To find these, search the internet using any general search engine like Google, Ecosia, or DuckDuckGo.

When I searched, my results included some specifically related to chemistry. Assuming that a more basic explanation is what we’re after, though, two options stand out. One is a short series of videos from Khan Academy: Intro to significant figures (video) | Khan Academy. The other is a PDF from the Yale Department of Astronomy: SigFig.pdf (

3. How to judge the quality of the information source to trust the answer is right?

While it seems unlikely that anyone would bother to post online a deliberately wrong answer to this question, sources will be better or worse at explaining the concept to someone who doesn’t already understand it. Thinking about the reputational quality of sources is always helpful for making a good selection amongst a long list of options.

Khan Academy is a well-established, non-profit online teaching academy dedicated to producing high quality teaching materials that anybody can access. How do I know this? A search for Khan Academy surfaced this information from a number of sources beyond the Khan Academy webpages. Always look not just at information that an organization provides about itself, but also at information you can find about it from other sources. Remember—a substandard organization would not advertise flaws or controversies in its own webpage “about” information.

Yale, a top world university, doesn’t need to be double-checked for quality. But a quick check does confirm that the PDF really is from Yale—shortening the full web address from to takes you to the Yale Department of Astronomy webpage.  

After checking these sources, I trust that both know what they are talking about. Both also—as you would expect from reputable teaching organisations—clearly explain and demonstrate the concepts needed to answer the question.  

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  • Carrying out literature reviews

Along with the guidance provided in this section, you can also access our full Best Practice for Literature Searching Guide on Libguides, by free download, or through our free SCORM package for librarians or lecturers to to include in their learning management system (LMS).

What is literature searching?

Literature searching is the task of finding relevant information on a topic from the available research literature. Literature searches range from short fact-finding missions to comprehensive and lengthy funded systematic reviews. Or, you may want to establish through a literature review that no one has already done the research you are conducting. If so, a comprehensive search is essential to be sure that this is true.

Whatever the scale, the aim of literature searches is to gain knowledge and aid decision-making. They are embedded in the scientific discovery process. Literature searching is a vital component of what is called "evidence-based practice", where decisions are based on the best available evidence. Learn more

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical assessment of the literature relating to a particular topic or subject. It aims to be systematic, comprehensive and reproducible. The goal is to identify, evaluate and synthesise the existing body of evidence that has been produced by other researchers with as little bias as possible. Learn more about what is involved in a literature review.

How do I carry out a literature search?

Good searching takes place in three broad stages: planning, searching, and follow up.

In the planning stage, you line up tools to optimize organization and think about where you can and should search. You also begin to define your search question and translate it into a search strategy. This merges into the search stage, where you will try out your search strategy in different databases and refine, refine, refine! You will collect records along the way, but you don't need to get the full text of these articles until you start the follow-up stage where you screen the records, first cursorily, then carefully.

Following this procedure for your searching helps ensure that you are actually catching the research most relevant to your question. Learn more

What is critical appraisal?

Critical appraisal is the process of systematically evaluating and assessing the research you have found in order to determine its quality and validity. Critical appraisal is essential to evidence based practice. Learn more

Are there any guides that can help me use the right terminology when writing literature reviews?

The Academic Phrasebank (J. Morley, University of Manchester) is a useful resource for academic writing and is freely available here. It’s not specific to literature reviews, but will definitely be helpful.

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  • Carrying out systematic reviews

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is a type of research study where all the studies that have been done on a question to date are located and analysed to find a comprehensive answer to the question. A systematic review must capture all the relevant literature on a question so that its conclusion is based on all available evidence. The study will be done in stages:

  • In stage one, the question, which must be answerable, is framed.
  • Stage two is a comprehensive literature search to identify relevant studies.
  • In stage three the identified literature’s quality is scrutinised and decisions made on whether or not to include each article in the review.
  • In stage four the evidence is summarised and, if the review includes a meta-analysis, the data extracted
  • In the final stage, findings are interpreted.

Some reviews also state what degree of confidence can be placed on that answer, using the GRADE scale. By going through these steps, a systematic review provides a broad evidence base on which to make decisions about medical interventions, regulatory policy, safety, or whatever question is analysed. By documenting each step explicitly, the review is not only reproducible, but can be updated as more evidence on the question is generated. Learn more about systematic reviews and the software tools to support your systematic review process.

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  • Getting published

Publishing research and scholarly work in a highly regarded credible journal is a key part of academic careers, but the process can be daunting to those new to it. is something that many find to be incredibly challenging. Below are some of the key answers you may find useful. For a more in-depth look, take a look at our Guide to Getting Published in Journals.

Why is it important to publish research in a journal rather than self-publish?

Although it is very easy to self-publish your own work through a range of platforms such as websites, blogs, and social media accounts, publishing research and scholarly work in a highly regarded journal is a key part of academic careers. There are several key benefits to publishing research in journals including discoverability, contributing to the records of research in the field, the benefits of peer review, dissemination and impact, career advancement and preventing duplication of effort. Learn more

How can I decide where to publish?

Our Publishing Guide has been developed to help authors navigate the process of selecting appropriate journals and understand the range of factors which might influence the decisions of where to submit. The guide explains a range of topics including the benefits of publishing in journals, different open access models, publishing ethics, and more.

The FSTA Journal Recommendation Service (JRS) is an online tool designed for researchers and authors working in the sciences of food and health. Powered by FSTA's coverage list of over 1000 quality-checked journals from publishers worldwide, the JRS matches your title and abstract to potentials journals, or you can browse using keywords. It lets you filter results by impact factor, open access policies, and more. Try the JRS

Why should I pay attention to a journal's “Aims and Scope”?

The Aims and Scope of a journal provides the key information about it - why it exists, what it aims to achieve, and what it is looking for from submissions. This information can usually be found on the journal website.

Understanding the Aims and Scope of a journal is critical to getting past the first hurdle of editorial review, and on to the peer review process. Failure to properly fit the subject scope of the journal or to help it further its editorial aims are common reasons for immediate rejection of submissions. It is important to make sure that you clearly understand it by investigating the journal website and reading sample articles, especially from recent issues. Key information to look for includes statements about subject or geographic scope, readership, and novelty or contributions. Make notes of all these aspects for each of your journals of interest.

For the paper you are currently writing, or looking to submit, consider how well your methods, sample populations and conclusions relate to the aims, scopes and readership of a journal, to understand whether it is suitable. Learn more

What can citation metrics tell me about a journal?

Citation metrics are an average of citations received by a journal, within a particular time frame. These can give us some helpful insights into the standards and history of journals, and may be an important factor in deciding where to submit your paper.

It may be assumed that a high citation metric has editorial processes of a high standard, but what it really means is that a journal is receiving a lot of citations and may be worth investigating further. The metrics themselves can be subject to a great degree of change. Just one highly cited paper can make a significant difference to the metrics of a journal year-on-year, so looking at a single metric for one year is not enough to determine the overall stature of a journal. By looking into their citation profile and metrics over the previous years you will get a better idea of the consistency of how a journal is used by the field.

It is worth noting that the use of citation metrics as a method for assessing the quality or value of research, journals, and especially individual researchers, has been a fiercely debated, controversial issue. Learn more

What are altmetrics and how are they different to citation metrics?

Alternative metrics, or altmetrics, monitor attention to individual articles and research outputs, providing almost instantaneous updates on the mentions of papers from a wide range of sources. These include traditional citations, public policy documents, mainstream media newspapers, blogs and websites, online reference managers, post publication review sites, Wikipedia, and social media platforms.

While traditional citation metrics are calculated by assessing the average number of citations received by a journal within a particular timeframe, altmetrics can give you even more insight into how beneficial a journal can be for you and your work. Altmetrics can be a valuable resource when determining where to publish your work. They are also a powerful tool for helping you know who is discussing your research and what they are saying about it, helping you enhance, increase, and further the impact and presence of your paper. Learn more

How do I prepare to submit my paper to a journal?

Each journal will provide instructions for authors on how to submit a paper, including the structure, formatting, word counts, and much more. Some journals may even provide a set of templates for manuscripts which can greatly help for structuring and formatting your papers and can be a helpful tool where available. Failure to comply with instructions for authors sits alongside aims and scope as the top reason articles are rejected from journals. Read more about how to ensure you comply with the journal’s requirements and what to expect when submitting to a journal.

If I am asked to include a cover letter when I submit my manuscript, what should the letter include?

If you need to include a cover letter with your submission, you should address the editor by formal name (e.g. Dear Professor Name---) and include the name of the journal. In the letter, explain why your article is suitable for that journal and how your paper will contribute to furthering its aims & scope. Pitch the value of your article, describing the main theme, the contribution your paper makes to existing knowledge, and its relationship to any relevant articles published in the journal. You should not repeat the abstract in the letter. Learn more about what to include in your cover letter.

What is peer review?

Peer review is a process by which manuscripts are selected for publication in journals.

There are many different ways in which the process is conducted, but the core principle is that a submission is read by experts in the field, who provide comments to a senior editor to make a decision on whether to accept or reject the paper. The reviewers should comment on features such as the robustness of the methodology, and whether the research has been designed, conducted and analysed in a way which is coherent, valid and ethical.

The most common forms of peer review involve keeping identities of reviewers and/or authors secret, at least until the peer review process is over. These are known as Single Blind (where the author does not know the names of the reviewers), and Double Blind (where all author information is removed from a paper, and neither reviewers or authors can be identified).

Learn more about how the characteristics of the journal's peer review process can help you decide where to submit or how to prepare for the peer review process after submission.

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  • Predatory journals and ethical concerns

Predatory journals are a deceptive, money-making practice by unscrupulous publishers. Whether you are trying to find trustworthy research, or somewhere to publish your work, identifying and avoiding predatory publishers is essential. You can find more information in our Predatory Journals Hub.

What is a predatory journal?

Basically, a predatory journal is one that will charge money to publish any research article with no peer review or other quality checks, so the literature published in them is unreliable, and sometimes completely fake.

There is no definitive criteria for what makes a journal "predatory", but areas such as intention, impact, monetary gain, quality, status, and reputation are all factors in how they can be assessed. Learn more

How does FSTA identify and exclude predatory journals?

In addition to ensuring new journals include sufficient content within the scope of FSTA’s subject area coverage, our editorial team of experts in the sciences of food and health conduct a thorough evaluation of each new journal against a checklist of criteria relating to potentially predatory or unethical publishing practices. This enables us to identify and exclude publishers and journals that may be using such practices. Our checklist covers 60 measures across several diverse areas. Learn more

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  • About FSTA

Trusted by researchers, scientists, students and government bodies in 158 countries across the globe, FSTA is the definitive way to search over fifty years of historic and emerging research in the sciences of food and health. Here’s a selection of commonly asked questions about the FSTA database. For more information on FSTA content and how to access it, take a look at our Solutions Hub

What search tool should I use for food and nutrition research?

FSTA is the only database entirely devoted to research in this interdisciplinary field. We think it's the best! Take a look at our comparison chart to see all the reasons why.

Search tools comparison chart Feb 2021

What is covered in FSTA?

FSTA contains over 1,700,000 high-quality records directly related to the sciences of food and health, including research from 82 countries and in 37 languages.

In addition to the core areas of food science, food technology and nutrition, FSTA includes relevant content across a host of related fields, including agriculture, microbiology, viticulture and oenology, biotechnology and much more.

For more information on FSTA content and how to access it, take a look at our Solutions Hub

What years of research does the FSTA database cover?

1969 to the present- although a very small amount of content also predates 1969, the year the database was launched. New content is added on a weekly basis. Learn more about the history of FSTA and IFIS Publishing.

For more information on FSTA content and how to access it, take a look at our Solutions Hub

How can I get involved with FSTA?

The FSTA advisory board is made up of prominent professors and researchers across the world, providing guidance on the coverage and content in FSTA and how to develop best practice in literature searching and literature reviews. If you are interested and would like to be considered, find out how to get involved.

IFIS is launching the FSTA student advisory board to give student representatives the chance to help us shape our offering, to make FSTA as useful as possible for our end users. We are looking for students who show a particular enthusiasm for their current studies and future careers in the food community. We're interested in university students at any stage of their studies. Click here to find out more about the board and how to get involved.

I am a librarian, how can I add FSTA resources to our website or Libguides?

To help you get the best value out of your FSTA subscription, we have created a template description for you to use on your library website or subject guides.  Please feel free to tailor the description of FSTA to highlight disciplines most relevant to your users.

We recommend adding FSTA to all relevant subject guides, not just food science and technology. Although food-focused, it is a very interdisciplinary database! See our full list of subject areas included here.

For more information on resource integration and promotional activities, take a look at our Solutions Hub

I want to promote FSTA to other library users, students, or colleagues. How can I do this?

We have created a range of resources to help build awareness, drive usage, and provide training for the FSTA database, all available in our resources hub. All materials are free to download and include posters, flyers, graphics, and more! Take me to the resources hub

Social media is a great way to build awareness of library resources and drive usage. Our resources hub includes ideas to inspire your library social media posts, including downloadable graphics, logos, social media templates, and more. You can even customise these with the most relevant subject area and the url for the database on your own platform.

You can also download our logo to use when utilising and promoting our range of resources. Get the FSTA logo

For more information on resource integration and promotional activities, take a look at our Solutions Hub

Meet our expert

Carol Hollier-1

Carol Hollier, Senior Information Literacy and Outreach Manager, IFIS Publishing

Before joining IFIS, Carol worked as an academic librarian in the UK and USA as a Reference and Instruction Librarian, Academic Subject Librarian, Faculty Team Librarian for Biosciences, and Senior Librarian for Teaching and Learning Support. She holds a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Kent State University, a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education from the University of Lincoln, and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Along with Carol, the IFIS team has expertise in the sciences of food and health, research, and publishing, which means we have a wealth of experts ready to serve the information needs of the food community.